Nine and a half months ago, Sen. Ted Cruz became the first to announce his candidacy for this year’s presidential election. Since then, nearly 20 others—both Democrat and Republican— have joined him in what has become one of the most unorthodox elections in the nation’s history. From the perplexing support that Donald Trump continues to receive on the right to the rapid ascent of Bernie Sanders on the left, many who thought they had a grip on American politics have been left in a state of dazed confusion. Former candidate and senator Lindsay Graham has commented that “professional wrestling is more organized, more reality-based,” and even Cruz himself has referred to the campaign as “kind of a circus.” Given that Swarthmore students have been extremely vocal about their support or disdain for certain candidates, we are certainly looking forward to the first votes being cast. Many have also, half-jokingly, noted that there should be no way in hell that many of the candidates should be doing as well as they are—even Bernie, whom many have pledged their support to—and that this election is unlike any we have ever seen before.
For months now, poll after poll has been released announcing the leading candidates and reporting on the election’s dynamic and shifty landscape. Each has also, without fail, caused voters and pundits alike to pause and think, “Is ______ really going to be the next president?!” (or elicited groans from the many who disapprove of the amount of coverage for an election not set to happen until November). Debates have been held and arguments have been fought, allowing candidates to inform voters about their positions on important issues and giving voters the time to form opinions. The issues have already been somewhat masked by a barrage of controversial gossip: Hillary’s email scandal, Bernie’s call for a more socialistic, Scandinavia-esque government, and Donald Trump’s frequent outbursts of ignorance and belligerence. The campaign so far has certainly made for compelling television, and more people seem to be paying attention to it earlier in the process than ever before.
But is it possible that the last nine and a half months don’t really mean anything—or at least that they aren’t as important as they seem to have been? Could they really just be the prologue to the introduction? At this point in 2008, Hillary Clinton was widely considered to have lock on the Democratic nomination and Barack Obama was considered unlikely to win. Similarly, in 2000, right before Iowa, George W. Bush and Steve Forbes were very much neck and neck in the race for the Republican nomination.
For all the chatter that has consumed most political conversation for nearly a year, sometimes, unfortunately, at the expense of significant developments in the United States and around the world, we still cannot truly say much about how the campaign is going to unfold. It is still extremely early, and things will change on an almost weekly basis. Donald Trump could win the nomination, but so could Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and even a struggling Jeb Bush has more than enough support and funding to mount a charge. On the Democratic side, only time will tell if Bernie Sanders’ populist support can propel him to the nomination or if Hillary Clinton’s solid base will prove to be too much to overcome. With the Iowa caucuses beginning this week, followed by a swift flurry of primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and all the Super Tuesday states, it is very possible and somewhat probable that everything that has happened in the last ten months could be shortly rendered moot.
So for those of you freaking out about the possibility of a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump nomination, don’t fear yet; there is much yet to come. If history serves as any indication, the parties will have to be practical and inch back towards the center. Unfortunately, for avid Bernie supporters, this will probably hold true on the Democratic side too. Cautious optimism is recommended, for even as Sen. Sanders has proven to be loved by the masses, he has much yet to prove in terms of garnering the type of support necessary for a winning campaign.
This, of course, is not to disparage those who have paid close attention to every turn and development so far; there has been a constant stream of conversation about candidates’ prospects for winning since the beginning of the fall semester, here at Swarthmore. Before even stepping on campus for the first time in August, I had already been invited to a “Swarthmore for Sanders” Facebook group and had seen at least six or seven separate posts in the Class of 2019 page asking who students were supporting and why. Since I’ve been here, there hasn’t been a day during which I haven’t overheard whispers about Trump, Sanders, or anyone in between. The intensity with which students have paid attention is reflective of how compelling the campaign has been thus far. And while, of course, that conversation will only increase in fervor as we approach the parties’ conventions and, ultimately, the general election, those who have chosen not to keep close watch so far might not have much to catch up on at all.
As of today (I’m writing this as the first caucuses are taking place in Iowa), the 2016 presidential election has begun, and the marathon of the last nine and a half months will slowly but surely become a sprint towards the finish.