INDIANAPOLIS – So, the stage is set for the November presidential election. In a nation of 320 million people, the best the two major political parties have to offer is a pair of morally vapid megalomaniacs who will spend the next several months scratching and clawing at each other in a very, very nasty national election. That’s the only rock-solid prediction one can make at this stage of Trump vs. Hillary. All the rest is informed speculation.  
Generally, presidential elections can be predicted by looking at the demographics and historical voting patterns of individual states, their heft in the Electoral College, the incumbent president’s approval rating, and the state of the national economy. Not in 2016, however. Politically speaking, America has stepped through the looking glass.
This time last year, pundits were dismissing Donald Trump as a non-serious candidate who was running to boost his own ego and brand. They were right, but he won the GOP nomination anyway. Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to win her party’s nomination – the term “coronation” was heard more than once – but none in the pundit class predicted the durability of Bernie Sanders, whose arithmetically challenged supporters (nothing in life is “free”) helped him chalk up victories right through this week’s primaries.  
With the economy on a slow growth trajectory and President Obama’s approval ratings in the “he said, she said” range, it will be difficult to predict going forward how these factors affect the presidential race. Call them a wash. Pundits now will turn to the electoral map where, if historical patterns inform, Hillary Clinton has a decided edge by simply being the Democratic nominee – sorry, presumptive nominee.  (Both Clinton and Trump are presumptive nominees at this point, as we have yet to consume the spectacles of the party conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland this summer to ratify the voters’ choices. Or, the super delegates’ choices, in the case of Clinton.)
On Tuesday night, Donald Trump signaled his intent to become more familiar with the teleprompter and to aggressively attack the Clinton graft machine that is simultaneously empowered by the non-profit sections of the federal tax code and, reportedly, under the scrutiny of the FBI and Obama justice department. We know that the Donald can be very aggressive and his promised upcoming speech on this subject will be fascinating. It remains to be seen how aggressive the FBI and justice department will be on the subject, ditto the news media, but Trump’s campaign seems determined to offer them opportunities to prove their mettle.
And the Clinton machine is no lightweight when it comes to aggressive attacks; just ask any of the women who have credibly come forth over the years to question the behavior of Wild Bill.  
The sleazy character of both Clinton and Trump and the strength of conviction of both their supporters and detractors will make the 2016 election different in character from past presidential contests. Like strongly hopped beer, both candidates are an acquired taste and, after nearly three decades in the celebrity limelight for each, it is unlikely that one will acquire a taste for either if one has not done so already. For the most part, their brands have been set in the public mind. In an overused but accurate word, they are polarizing.  
Therefore, the opportunities for persuasion would seem to be limited, but here the Sanders factor and the obvious bigotry of Trump will have some effect. Where will the distraught Sanders voter go? The Donald made an explicit appeal to them this week and, in some sense, both Trump and Sanders have been nibbling at opposite ends of the same electoral hot dog; they appeal to the economically insecure and dispossessed.  
How many nominal Republicans appalled by the Donald’s racist appeals and un-presidential temperament will stay home or – gulp – vote for Hillary?  
And, how many thinking Americans appalled by the results of the primary process in both parties will reject those choices and examine the Gary Johnson-William Weld ticket on offer by the Libertarians? Both are former Republican governors of states that have trended blue in past presidential contests. The answer could depend on whether they are allowed a third podium in the debates this fall. They should be.
With the conventions yet to take place, with the debate over debates yet to take place, with a final report from federal law enforcement on the Clinton email server yet to be delivered, and informed by the unpredictable nature of the process that has unfolded to date, it is perilous to predict the unpredictable at this point.  
Hold your nose and let the vile circus continue.

Carter is a recuperating lobbyist and long-time political strategist who has worked on several state and national political campaigns. He is HPI’s national correspondent. Email him at