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U.S. politics: The stuff that nightmares are made of Add to ...

The most bizarre U.S. presidential race in my lifetime, and probably yours, is about to get real. With four weeks until the Iowa caucuses, followed by a quick succession of primaries in key states, even the angriest voters will begin feeling the weight of democratic responsibility rather than indulging in the revenge fantasies of electing an erratic blowhard or grouchy old socialist.

No prediction about the 2016 race has proved accurate to this point, but that won’t stop anyone from continuing to make them. Besides, six months of campaigning and more than a half-dozen televised debates have revealed more than many of us might have hoped.

We’ve learned, for instance, that Hillary Clinton is no better candidate now than she was in 2008, and, in fact, seems much worse. Despite no credible competition for the Democratic nomination, she wasted her head start entangled in a self-perpetuating scandal over her use of a private e-mail account while serving as secretary of state, taking refuge behind a wall of evasion and obfuscation. No wonder voters consider her the most untrustworthy candidate in either party.

Her candidacy seems based entirely on her own sense of entitlement, not ideas. No one who knows anything about her doubts that she holds deep convictions. But they are secondary to her all-consuming desire to become the first female president. She just doesn’t dare express her convictions on the campaign trail, preferring to pander to carefully targeted Democratic cohorts. Her every utterance seems crafted by committee and utterly devoid of passion or authenticity.

Her website recently featured a blog post telling Latino voters how much Ms. Clinton has in common with their abuela. She has used her grandmother status (her second grandchild is on the way, just in time for the November election) to soften her image. But she has as much in common with the average senior Latina as any other white daughter of privilege who has spent decades insulated from the real world. Her patronizing bout of Hispandering will leave tracks.

Opinion polls in New Hampshire show her trailing Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, who, in any other election year, would be a fringe candidate. Starting Monday, however, Bill Clinton will be hitting the campaign trail in the Granite State on his wife’s behalf. She calls him her “not-so-secret weapon,” but, if 2008 is any guide, the Big Dog often shoots from the lip in ways that backfire.

Ms. Clinton must hope that Donald Trump keeps on attacking her in the crude and sexist fashion that is his wont. She is never more sympathetic than when she is the victim of the Trump bile.

Speaking of the blowhard, the Republican establishment keeps on hoping that Mr. Trump will be undone by his haphazard campaign organization and reliance on a base of supporters who won’t or can’t vote in GOP primaries. If not, 2016 is shaping up as a nightmare for the party.

Iowa and New Hampshire often produce big surprises and the true contenders emerge only in the final days of campaigning. The number crunchers still see the nomination coming down to a race between Florida Senator Marco (The Republican Obama) Rubio and his Texas counterpart, Ted (The Man His Own Party Hates) Cruz.

Strangely, money hasn’t mattered in this contest so far. Jeb Bush, whose campaign and super PAC have spent more than those of any other Republican candidate, barely registers in the polls. The Bush campaign keeps insisting that will soon change. Alternatively, as other campaigns ramp up their spending in January, Mr. Bush risks being drowned out entirely.

Democrats fear the 44-year-old, fluently bilingual Mr. Rubio the most. The son of Cuban exiles who worked menial jobs combines passion, policy chops and a personal narrative that makes Ms. Clinton look like yesterday’s woman. But she will play the experience and gender cards, and a better economy will boost her argument for keeping a Democrat in the White House.

A Republican ticket led by Florida’s Mr. Rubio with Ohio Governor John Kasich as his running mate would help the GOP in two states it needs to win or go home. Ms. Clinton might then go with Julian Castro, the 41-year-old rising Democratic star from Texas, as her running mate – although her weak support among older, white men may force her to pick a boring white guy.

Welcome to 2016: no dream teams, but a couple of nightmare scenarios.

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