The Riggs Report: Who has staying power in 2016?

On the right and the left, some surprises are brewing in the White House race

Donald Trump’s antics have gained him a lot of ink and airtime in recent weeks. And that has translated into early popularity; a new Monmouth University Poll in fact shows Trump leading in New Hampshire over his closest GOP rival, Jeb Bush, by a margin of 2-1.

It seems the more Trump voices controversial comments, such as questioning the war hero record of John McCain, the better he does in polling—which, by the way, has little meaning at this stage of a very long race. Trump, at the moment, is confounding political wisdom by leaving more establishment-style candidate such as Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio in the dust.

Simply put, in a crowded field, Trump’s notoriety gives him stand-out power. That is a very different thing from staying power. But for now, conservative voters are liking Trump’s well-polished aptitude for showmanship and are buying his argument that he can be unfiltered because he’s not a politician.

In the meantime, in the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders is also generating surprise by defying early expectations. Who would have guessed a self-described Socialist, not even a registered Democrat, would attract such large crowds of voters at rallies?

Sanders remains a political long-shot, but the interest in his campaign reflects a strong desire on the part of many Democrats to support an alternative to Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ favorable rating among Americans has doubled in a recent Gallup survey, compared to March, as he’s become better-known. Clinton’s favorable rating, meantime, has dipped 5 points since April.

Some of this is due to a natural desire to see a competitive contest. Some of it has to do with a perception of Clinton as too calculating and insincere.

Make no mistake, Clinton remains a strong frontrunner, with a tremendous advantage in terms of fundraising, key political support, and strong organization. But Sanders’ performance does expose some of her vulnerabilities in a general election campaign, and will probably serve to push her more to the left in terms of policy issues.

For Sanders, on the left, and Trump, on the right, these are good times with growing attention paid to their candidacies. It’s also a reminder of the volatility of the race that’s shaping up for 2016.