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LISTEN: 6 Moments From A Surprising Year In Presidential Politics

When former Gov. Jeb Bush announced his candidacy in June 2015, he was talked about as the likely front-runner for the GOP nomination.
Johnny Louis
When former Gov. Jeb Bush announced his candidacy in June 2015, he was talked about as the likely front-runner for the GOP nomination.

Here's a candidate for understatement of the year: The current presidential race has not exactly followed the script that the pundits, journalists and even that know-it-all news junkie at your book club or local diner predicted. You might say it was the year that conventional wisdom got humbled ... or Trumped.

The first, big moment of the 2016 race came just over a year ago, in the form of a tweet from the handle @JebBush:

Here's what Bush told TV station WPLG back then:

It was a bold early move, and one designed to discourage another big name seriously looking at running — Mitt Romney.

It seemed to work.

Just weeks after that Jeb Bush tweet, Romney held a call with potential donors:

And just like that, Bush was the guy to beat.

So the chatter began about how dull this election was going to be — a race with anotherClinton and another Bush. In this case, Hillary and Jeb, who were seen back then as the likely nominees. Voters and pundits grumbled. Here's The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

It turned out there was no shortage of GOP hopefuls. A half dozen governors and former governors jumped in, including: Chris Christie, John Kasich and Scott Walker. As did Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. And businesswoman Carly Fiorina.

And — this guy:

Call it the summer of Donald Trump. He dominated the race. And the polls.

All despite a steady steam of controversial statements by the billionaire candidate. Beginning with this description of those crossing the border illegally from Mexico:

This story could be filled with outrageous Trump moments. Meanwhile, Scott Walker abruptly dropped out. Jeb Bush tumbled. While a retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, also surprised, challenging Trump at the top for a time.

For the GOP it's the year of the outsider — meaning way outside the system.

Now, quickly, to the Democrats. Unlike Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton remains in a pretty solid position in the race for the nomination. But her main challenge has come not from a big name like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren, but from a self-described Democratic Socialist — Sen. Bernie Sanders.

He has drawn huge, energized crowds:

And so it goes in this election year that began with predictions of Just. How. Boring. It was all going to be.

But remember, the first actual votes will be cast in just over a month as early states hold their primaries and caucuses. So a good New Year's resolution for next year — be wary of predictions.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.