It’s been the summer of Jeb and Donald, Hillary and Bernie

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

When, a few years ago, Barbara Bush said, “We’ve had enough Bushes in the White House,” perhaps she was expressing a mother’s worry that what’s happening to Jeb Bush right now would happen.

After being proclaimed the frontrunner for the Republican nomination and raising a stunning amount of money — $114 million in the first six months of 2015 between his campaign and an allied super PAC — Bush’s poll numbers are beyond unimpressive. He’s averaging 8 percent nationally, 12 percent in New Hampshire and 7 percent in Iowa.

Bush’s purported strength as a policy wonk might have been hurt by statements on foreign policy (that the Iraq War was “a pretty good deal,” for example) and other matters. And perhaps his greatest strength for winning the general election, his positive views about Hispanics and his once relatively moderate immigration policy, is undermining his strength in a newly Trump-centered primary contest.

True, depictions of Hispanic immigrants as scary threats are nothing new. Last summer, the Republican Governors Association wheeled out its own version in ads for Gov. Paul LePage’s reelection campaign. At the end of the 2014 campaign, LePage ventured that immigrants could spread hepatitis and ebola in Maine.

For Bush to make pro-immigrant comments was always going to be politically risky for his nomination prospects, even though the Republican National Committee rightly recognized in early 2013 that the party had to stop turning off Hispanic voters, the fastest growing segment of the electorate.

In this time of Donald Trump’s political rise, the angrier and higher-pitched the rhetoric the better. Trump’s intensity and outsider status speaks to a Republican base that feels the Establishment has let them down. Among other things, after congressional Republicans pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they didn’t.

For anyone who understands how our constitutional system works, killing the health reform law was always always going to be impossible while Obama was president. And repealing it has become more politically risky as coverage rates have surged and disapproval has waned. Still, the base feels betrayed.

Trump will soon be the subject of a massive effort by the Club for Growth to kill his candidacy. Attempts to take him down have failed so far, as Trump’s own outrageous statements have contributed to his surge. It’s true that early polls often don’t indicate who will win, but right now Trump doesn’t look like a flash in the pan.

What Trump does goes beyond brashly trashing illegal immigrants and promising to return the U.S. to where it once was during a triumphalist past. Trump has also embraced a policy position that’s very popular across all political groups — that Social Security should not be cut.

After decades of Republicans trying to sell Americans on the idea that raising the retirement age is really, absolutely, totally needed and will be a “reform” that “saves” the program, Trump has exposed the fiscal reality it’s not necessary to work until 70. Should he actually win the nomination — still a long shot — this position would help him. Whether he wins it or he doesn’t, Trump has delivered a swift kick to the GOP privatizers’ hopes.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton remains the frontrunner. Despite placing second in New Hampshire polls, she continues to lead primary polls nationally and in most states.

In town meetings, Clinton connects with people and displays policy knowledge, as she did in a recent forum on drug abuse, but the media mostly want to talk about her emails and the private server she used during her tenure as secretary of state.

The coverage often misses key details, such as the fact that the private server had been installed at the Clinton home before Clinton served as secretary of state; it was initially set up for Bill Clinton’s post-presidential office and guarded by the Secret Service. Pundits also monitor Clinton’s tone for “warmth,” a standard never applied to Donald Trump and the other candidates.

Bernie Sanders speaks to a central concern of our time, growing economic inequality. This trend undermines opportunity and the American dream, and Sanders’ candidacy gains its energy from widespread unhappiness related to maldistribution of economic growth.

But so far Sanders hasn’t been able to reach beyond the sorts of constituencies his fellow Vermonter, Howard Dean, attracted in 2004. Sanders can’t win the nomination unless he does so.

However long it takes Republicans and Democrats to pick their nominees, this will have been a summer to remember, the summer of Jeb and Donald and Hillary and Bernie.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.