I watched part of last night's Democratic debate with a longtime friend and liberal activist (we were both in Washington Park when Eugene McCarthy spoke there in 1968). He supports Secretary Clinton, and I support Senator Sanders, but we both agreed that we were hearing a debate of ideas and not just sound bites. It occurred to me that we were watching the equivalent of a mid-level playoff game; in fact, our process to select a president is similar to a sports playoff. Candidates are divided into the Left League and the Right League, go through some prequalification process (organizing a committee, raising some money, and giving trial-balloon speeches), then start the playoffs. Iowa and New Hampshire eliminate about half the contenders, Super Tuesday eliminates about half of the remaining contenders, and the ones that remain battle it out for the championships of their respective leagues (or in this case, parties). The Left League and Right League champions then face off in November for the title.
One difference between sports playoffs and this year's campaign struck me. In sports playoffs, all of the contenders are playing the same game. They may have different styles -- one football team might pass a lot and another might prefer to run -- but the teams all share the same basic objective, which is to outscore the opponents. By contrast, this year the Left League and the Right League are aiming at different goals. Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton talked about their experience in foreign and domestic policy, each trying to persuade the audience that he or she was the better and more experienced candidate. They both larded their speeches with facts and figures.
The Republican campaign has been the opposite. The Candidates of the Right are wooing the voters by bragging about how little they know about government. Two of the four leading Republican candidates have never held elective office, and a third is a newly-minted senator. Their campaigns play up how little they've been sullied by Washington. That's akin to a football coach saying that his team deserves to win the championship because the players haven't been spoiled by too much time on the gridiron.
Thus the quirk in the 2016 election. The two parties are not only not on the same field, but they aren't even playing the same game.