Victor Davis Hanson

In this weird presidential campaign, almost everything has turned out opposite from what pollsters and pundits predicted. Even Super Tuesday proved not-so-super, and things are still not quite settled in either party race.

The election was supposed to be about a shaky Iraq. But after the successful surge and the recent economic downturn in the U.S., candidates now talk more about mortgages and illegal immigration than chaos in Baghdad.

John McCain was said to be finished by July. Then he was back again as a contender by January and is a supposed sure thing in February.

Barack Obama was at first just to be a runner-up; front-runner Hillary Clinton once worried more about the fall Republican nominee. Then, after the unexpected Obama victory in Iowa, his surging poll numbers assured us that Hillary was toast in New Hampshire. But she suddenly came back there, and also won in Michigan and Nevada — but that was all before Obama resurged in February.

Then there was the topsy-turvy history of Rudy Giuliani — a supposed insurmountable lead turned into an unexpected implosion. Not long ago Fred Thompson was also hyped — only to crash and burn. And who knows the status of Mike Huckabee?

Conservatives are irate at McCain — especially over his past stances on taxes and immigration and his sometime alliances with Democrats — and some promise to sit out the general election if he gets the Republican nomination.

Meanwhile, some Democrats repulsed by the Clintons promise to vote for McCain if Clinton gets her party's nomination. And a few angry voters of both parties claim that they like nice-guy Obama better than either of the other likely nominees.

What is causing these wild swings among jittery and fickle voters?

First, we are in the middle of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are still fighting against radical Islamic terrorists on other fronts. Trillions in U.S. dollars are held abroad by rivals and belligerents. The economy is slowing. Energy prices are sky-high.

But for most, the medicine is as scary as the disease: Should we send more troops to finish the job overseas, or are there too many abroad already? Should we prime the economy to prevent recession? Or are stimulus plans unrealistic now that we are already running federal deficits and piling up debt?

Second, without a single administration incumbent in the running, both the Republican and Democratic races are especially volatile. In contrast, in every other presidential race after 1952, either an incumbent president or the sitting vice president has run in the fall election.

But now there is no status quo. Instead, a war has broken out within each party.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.