Is it all just a dream from which at some point we will all wake up, pinch ourselves and wonder just where that craziness came from? The 2016 election campaign has been unlike anything we have seen before, and the reason for that is there for all to see - larger than life and somehow impossible to ignore: Donald J Trump is a once in a political lifetime candidate.
Or at least, he is a once in a lifetime genuine contender for the White House. Local politics is full of brash Alpha personalities who are capable of bludgeoning their way through the cut and thrust of political argument. But for such a blunt approach to be so successful on the national stage is something else altogether.
The market isn’t discounting Trump
It is a Washington truism that to get to the heart of any story you need to follow the money. Taking a measure of the public pulse according to where they are putting their money - rather than what they are airily telling the pollsters - is as fair a measure of the relative standing of the key protagonists. On that basis, trump remains a serious force. At the time of writing the US election betting sees Hillary Clinton at the top of the odds at 1/3 with Trump next in line at a far from outrageous 5/2.
That suggests there are plenty of serious-minded election watchers who are prepared to seriously consider the prospect of a Trump Presidency. They say the market never lies. Following the money suggests we should put all the noise to one side and view this as a live contest. Trump supporters will certainly make that case - but of course they would, wouldn’t they?
From “nut job” to statesman
“Nut job” and “loser” - epithets tossed in Trump’s direction by South Carolina’s Republican senator Lindsey Graham ahead of White House speaker Paul Ryan’s conspicuous non-endorsement of the New York billionaire - like so many other barbs and rejections, seem incapable of piercing the presumptive candidate’s rhino-thick skin. Trump plays according to his own rules and, although he is beginning to show a previously unheralded political flexibility, there is the sense that having been so extreme and so strident earlier in the campaign his new-found ‘statesmanlike’ approach may be undermined by all the earlier bluster.
The counter argument is, of course, that Trump’s anti-establishment, blunt and abrasive tub thumping has been consistently met with very positive approval ratings. For this constituency, it seems, Trump can do no wrong. For those who are accustomed to a different way of doing politics he can, equally, do nothing creditable. It makes for highly polarised campaigning - and so far that has been largely a matter contained within the confines of the GOP. Things could get a whole lot more lively once the debate is extended across the country as a whole.
Before that dream comes to fruition, of course, Trump has to be established as the formal Republican candidate. The process may be messy, but the smart money is suggesting that when we wake from this dreamlike - some would say nightmarish - phase of the campaign Trump will be that man.