If it is possible to cut through the hype and the many layers of craziness that is Donald Trump, we find that his actual policies (which are as substantial as a house made of cotton candy) are really quite simple. Trump's campaign always returns to the central themes of domestic security and excluding the other.
Apart from Jeb Bush who is either helped or hindered by having such a famous name, nobody is really all that familiar with the other candidates on the Republican side other than Trump, unless you happen to be a political junkie. Trump isn't a politician and so he is neither versed or trained in the art of political speech; as such he tends to say whatever pops into his head at any given moment. That is either refreshing or unhinged depending on your point of view.
Trump trades on the blunt rhetoric of security by force and achieving piece through violence. Although he has suggested things as looney as bombing every target possible, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and enacting laws to discriminate arrivals based on religion (specifically keeping Muslims out), they're all based on this central theme of security. If he is questioned outside of this topic, he really has very little to say.
Even though populism is usually associated with the poor masses and the lower middle classes, by emphasising the "other" Trump has rocketed in the polls. He might very well be popular but when the quiet masses are moved in November, is he electable?
Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and even Ben Carson, are all trying to maneuver to try and take the establishment vote on the Republican side.
Owing to the bizarre terminology that exists in the United States and nowhere else in the world, and which was taken from the names of the two main political parties in Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century, the word Conservative does not describe someone who is trying to conserve the institutions of government but someone who would prefer smaller government and the idea of individual liberty but yet maintain the structures of power on the basis of money. Ever since about the time of Reagan, this has meant an even further shift to the economic right; with supporters arguing for lower taxation.
I've heard a lot about appealing to "evangelicals" and maybe "Latinos" as though they were single homogeneous groups. As long as the buzzwords of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana" are bandied about, then the actual substance of the policy which might follow can be irrelevant or nonexistent. Even though districts which elect the House of Representatives can be gerrymandered to a point way beyond ridiculousness, as long as the words which are said are fine, then it doesn't really matter.
Republicans have controlled the Senate for the vast majority of the past eight years and the House for some of that period and even though Congresses 112, 113 & 114 have been less productive than Truman's "Do Nothing" 80th Congress, the fact that Obama has been a Democrat has been the perfect cover for everything. Ted Cruz was part of the faction that engineered a government shutdown of a few years ago and even though this caused government services to stop, old age pensions to stop and chaos at airports, this still wasn't enough to change people's perception. It was all government's fault; therefore we need to make it smaller.
Hilary Clinton needs no policies. After losing the Democratic nomination in 2008 to Obama, it was generally accepted that she would nominally be the one to replace him. Obama was the first black President and Hilary will be the first woman; that's the way the script reads, right?
Apart from positions of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana", Hilary's policies needn't be any different to the Republican Party. All she really needs to do is show some touchy-feeliness and say mostly sensible things abiut gun control when the inevitable mass shooting occurs and make the right noises about things like the minimum wage, and she's more or less a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. In fact I'd go so far as to say that if it was November and it was Hilary versus Trump, she'd win the Presidency by virtue of not being Donald Trump.
Bernie Sanders has been saying the same sorts of things since the 1970s. He's been arguing for the best part of forty years that too much income and power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
In a speech really early in the campaign, Bernie Sanders identified himself as a socialist; which in the United States, operates on a sliding scale between the ages of 18-dead of hatred. People who still remember the coldest of the Cold War hate socialism despite the fact that they might be receiving a government pension, but for young people, they don't associate socialism with the Soviet Union, Stalin, or Chairman Mao but expect the word "media" to follow the word "social". When they hear policies which address things like taxation of the rich who might be avoiding it altogether and things like health care policy which attempts to address the quite frankly ludicrous situation in the United States where the biggest reason for bankruptcy is medical bills, then Bernie Sanders who would otherwise be seen as a silly old square, starts to look sensible.
In fact Bernie Sanders' policy mix looks more like the sort of platform which would have been at the centre of Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in Britain in the 1950s. Sanders would like to push America a little to the economic left, from its current position of being so right-shifted it isn't funny. He hasn't said anything about labour reform or unionism but I suspect that he likes the idea of raising the minimum wage and possibly actually doing something about chasing overseas tax avoidance.
When this finally rounds the last turn, I think it will be a four horse race. I don't know of who between Rubio, Cruz, Carson and maybe Christie will be the last challenger against Trump but after the Iowa caucuses, there will definitely be dropouts.
I think that:
If it's Trump v Sanders - Trump will win.
If it's Trump v Clinton - Clinton will win.
If it's another Republican v Clinton - the Republican will win.
If it's another Republican v Sanders - California will decide.
This campaign although being excessively noisy, is fast becoming predictable; we're almost out of teh fog.