2016 Election: Washington Post Reporter Calls Race ‘Surreal’ and ‘Twisty-Turny’

Gabriella Schwarz / September 9, 2015

The 2016 race for president is fully underway. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains embroiled in an email controversy, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continues to rise in the polls, and Vice President Joe Biden is deciding whether or not to jump into the race. On the Republican side, businessman Donald Trump continues to cause a stir wherever he goes, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson‘s star is only rising, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is fighting to get ahead of the ever-large GOP field.

To break down what’s happening on the trail, we spoke with Washington Post political reporter Amber Phillips for our monthly State of the Race blog series, as part of 2016 Election Central.

Trump is running a very unconventional campaign. How has that impacted how you cover him and the other candidates?
The man’s unique, that’s for sure. I like to say he’s got a magic coat of armor that reflects any attack right back onto the attacker, 10 times stronger. But going on month three of his campaign, it’s time to realize Donald Trump is here to stay for as long as GOP voters will have him, and Trump must be covered as a serious candidate. He is a serious candidate, and his ascendancy is saying something very serious about the state of politics right now that we would all be wise to try to understand.

As Clinton’s polling has shifted, have you seen a change in how she is received on the trail or how she interacts with voters and the press?
Hillary Clinton’s having trouble with her campaign right now, no doubt. What the numbers seem to tell us is that Democratic voters like Clinton but they don’t love her. With that in mind, I think Clinton’s camp is still wary of the press (an August press conference about her emails she sent on a private server while secretary of state didn’t go that well) and will continue to focus on voter-to-voter contact during this early stage in the campaign. She’s still the frontrunner, after all, so no need for her to pull any big punches. But Clinton has got to find a way to boost people’s enthusiasm for her campaign if she wants to do well in the general election.

Who’s the most underrated candidate right now? Is there someone on either side of the aisle who’s resonating with voters that has yet to register as much in the polls?
That would be John Kasich. The two-term Ohio governor is the moderate Republican candidate who can step into frontrunner status if former Florida governor Jeb Bush falters. Kasich hails from a swing state, presided over a balanced budget during his nine terms as congressman and did fairly well in Republican’s first primary debate. He’s steadily climbing in the polls as a result and is one to watch.

As we head into the second GOP debate, what’s the advantage and disadvantage of going after Trump?
Pro: By attacking Donald Trump, you can try not to look weak in the face of Trump’s increasingly bellicose attacks.

Con: In attacking Trump, you risk adding fuel to his fireā€”that he’s the anti-establishment candidate, and everyone else in Washington is out to get him.

It’s a tough call! I’m glad I’m not a campaign strategist for Jeb Bush right now.

What five adjectives would you use to describe the state of the race currently?
Surreal. Anti-establishment. Polarized. Twisty-turny. Entertaining.

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 “The Syrian Crisis