2016 Election: Washington Post Reporter Calls Race ‘Amusing’ and ‘Trumpy’

Gabriella Schwarz / October 21, 2015

The ever-interesting 2016 presidential election has been dominated lately by whether or not Joe Biden will enter the race (he announced Wednesday he would not), Hillary Clinton‘s “controversies” and polling numbers, and Donald Trump‘s continued strength in the Republican field. To break down what’s happening on the trail, we spoke with Washington Post reporter Philip Bump for our monthly State of the Race blog series, as part of 2016 Election Central.

You’ve looked a lot at polling this cycle. Whose numbers have changed most and what do you think that means for their race going forward?
I have indeed! It seems as though, during this still-young cycle, media outlets have discovered that polling is a way to generate traffic, so you’re seeing even newer organizations paying for polls from which they can craft stories.

That said, the biggest change has been from Hillary Clinton, in part because she was so far ahead of the pack earlier this year. She’s slipped considerably—which I think offers a lot in terms of examining the state of the race in both parties. It reveals a racial split on the left, it reinforces the “year of the outsider” concept more broadly and it contrasts with Jeb Bush—since Clinton is still winning handily.

Which Republican candidate has the most momentum on the ground right now and why?
“On the ground” implies retail politics, the hand-shaking and email-collecting that takes place in early states. That’s somewhat hard to measure, but I think it’s safe to say that Donald Trump has done a surprisingly good job at putting together a traditional ground effort.

What’s interesting about this year so far, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a connection between spending time in a state and doing well in the polls there. Rick Santorum and Martin O’Malley have been all over Iowa, and almost no voters support either of them.

Clinton is set to testify on Capitol Hill this week about Benghazi. What do you think is at stake for the Democratic frontrunner?
I think that the primary outcome of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s aborted campaign to be Speaker was to kneecap the Benghazi Committee. The committee now finds itself in the position of having to defend the impartiality of its efforts and its questions, and Clinton gets to add an asterisk to anything that the committee determines.

No one would have expected the emergence of the email server as an issue, so I wouldn’t want to try to predict how the committee’s work will evolve. But it’s clearly a much weaker cudgel against Clinton than it used to be.

Why is Donald Trump the Republican frontrunner?
There are probably a lot of reasons, though, in honesty, I did a bad job of seeing it coming.

That he’s a celebrity certainly plays a role. So does the fact that he’s exceptionally good at getting attention from the media. The Post’s John Sides has shown how his polling tracks with his media attention.

But he’s also got a very good combination of attributes for the moment. He can argue effectively for his own independence and honesty, by eschewing fundraising (although he fundraises) and by not being “politically correct.” His campaign platform—mostly “I will be the best”—defies much serious rebuttal. And for those fed up up with career politicians, he’s anything but.

There’s another important aspect: the size of the field. If it were Donald Trump versus one other person, I doubt very much that Trump would be winning.

Do you think we’ll be looking at the same slate of candidates a month from now?
Nope. I think each party’s field will be at least one person smaller. I’m not going to name names, because I will be wrong and people will make fun of me.

The people who can stay in are the people who aren’t really spending much on the effort. It’s the people who are making a real go of it and failing that are likely to be headed for the door.

What five adjectives would you use to describe the state of the race currently?
Weird, amusing, hyperactive, incessant and Trumpy.

You can read more about each candidate in the presidential race through the 15 made-for-Flipboard magazines from The Washington Post.

~GabyS is reading 10 for Today