Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders: The Two Big Phenomena of This Election

Trump and Sanders have both shown the anger at America’s status quo politics.

ByABC News
December 17, 2015, 11:59 AM

— -- It is the week of debates. And the beginning of the celebration of the holidays. To give homage to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, let's look at the ghosts of the Debate Past, pause for the Present, and look ahead to the ghosts of the Debate yet to come (ABC News hosts a Democratic debate this Saturday in New Hampshire).

The GOP candidates for president gathered this past Tuesday in Las Vegas and the main outcome is that it confirmed the current trajectory of the race. Donald Trump is the dominant figure among the GOP right now, and he is the man to beat heading into next year.

It looks like a two-way fight for second place between Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Each has their different bases of support - and each needing to show strength in the first contests: Cruz really has to win the Iowa caucus to continue, and Rubio needs to finish in second place in New Hampshire to move on. As Ben Carson continues to fall, social conservatives seem to be rallying around Cruz, and the establishment seems to be coalescing around Rubio. Jeb Bush hasn't been able to gain any momentum.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had a good debate, and right now sneaks into the fourth spot in the primary playoffs. He has an outside shot if he can continue his momentum in New Hampshire and surprise folks there in February.

For the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton continues to be the dominant force among the Democrats. She stopped her fall that occurred in the summer, and has stabilized herself with a substantial lead over her nearest competitor - Sen. Bernie Sanders. It is hard to see her losing the nomination, but the real story of that race is the support and energy surrounding Sanders.

We all have talked about Trump ad infinitum and the anti-establishment support he is getting among the GOP, but we haven't focused enough on Sanders and the anti-establishment grassroots he has highlighted. Let us review a few key points:

1) Sanders is probably the most authentic candidate in the entire race. He has fought for his issues for years. His thoughts, words and actions are in total alignment. And though you might disagree with his prescription, he is genuine in his concern for the poor and what has happened to the middle class in America the last thirty years.

2) He has by far more grassroots/small dollar contributors than any other candidate that has run for president at this point. This week Sanders' campaign announced that it has more than two million contributions with an average contribution of around $30. Truly impressive.

3) Though not covered with the same intensity or time, the crowds that Sanders has gathered around the country are nearly as big and are definitely as energetic as followers of Trump. Though coming from a totally different side of populism as Trump, Sanders "people" power is just as impressive.