So it's no surprise that this year's presidential campaign has been as unpredictable as ever. That happens when voters feel that government isn't working for them, and they've been feeling that way for nearly 10 straight years. In past elections during times of voter alienation, the unexpected happens. In 1976, the first campaign after Watergate and amid rising crime and inflation, a little-known Georgia governor (Jimmy Carter) came out of nowhere to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency. That same year, a Republican president (Gerald Ford) was nearly unseated by a conservative insurgent (Ronald Reagan) that few pundits took seriously at first. In 1992, in the middle of a recession, Democrats chose a fresh-faced Arkansas governor (Bill Clinton) while Republicans saw a populist (Pat Buchanan) threaten their president (George H.W. Bush) in early primaries—with a billionaire winning 19 percent of the vote running as a third-party candidate (Ross Perot).
This is why the expectations of a Jeb Bush-Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential election never made much sense—it couldn't be more disconnected with voter sentiment. Bush's candidacy still hasn't captured the imagination of most GOP voters, and the Democrats' unification behind a Clinton campaign was as much a reaction to the lack of younger, up-and-coming successors to Obama as it was to genuine grassroots enthusiasm for the former secretary of State. At a time when anti-Washington, antiestablishment feelings are near all-time highs, why would both parties nominate candidates with political bloodlines who've benefited from their family connections? All the campaign money in the world can't change fundamental vulnerabilities. It shouldn't be too surprising that Donald Trump—not to mention all the outsider candidates, such as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina—are surging in national polls.
Not surprisingly, Bush and Clinton's favorability ratings are consistently among the worst of the candidates running for president. Clinton's numbers outside the hardcore Democratic base are so poor that she barely looks more electable than Trump, according to the latest round of national and swing-state polls. She loses to Trump in a head-to-head matchup in Florida, according to Quinnipiac's August survey. And while Bush is only winning lukewarm support from rank-and-file Republicans, he's also struggling to make inroads with independents. Last month's NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Bush's net favorability at -14, offering little improvement over the GOP's battered brand (at -16). If their names weren't Clinton or Bush, they'd look like also-rans for the presidency, not frontrunners. Their favorability ratings are well behind Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.
On the campaign trail, these vulnerabilities are playing out. Bush has proven to be a rusty campaigner, struggling to disassociate himself with the legacy of his brother. He's facing other establishment-friendly challengers who offer similar messages but without the hereditary baggage: Ohio Gov. John Kasich offers a stylistic contrast, while Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida provides a generational one. Clinton has projected a sense of entitlement on the campaign trail, avoiding interviews with the national media and carefully stage-managing her public events. It's that very mentality that led to her decision to use a private email server as secretary of State, allowing her to conceal correspondence from the public. That's now causing her immense political trouble, given that she reportedly received and transmitted classified information in the process—not to mention possible legal trouble down the road, given the FBI's active investigation.