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The surging campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are leaving traditional political pundits and their predictions in the dust. The funny part is that both men are making hay by speaking truthfully about how our political system works – or doesn’t work – albeit from very different perspectives. And the American public is responding in an astounding show of significant discontent with the status quo politics, the money and the manipulation that leaves the populace on the sidelines while the oligarchs call the shots.

Donald Trump is by far the more flamboyant of the two. A multi-billionaire real estate mogul, reality TV personality, and legend in his own mind, Trump has overturned the Republican presidential applecart and is tossing other candidates and their traditional media supporters to the wind.

First off, since Trump is wealthy beyond the imagination of most people, the idea of kow-towing before the usual altars for campaign contributions doesn’t even play into his game plan. He can self-fund his campaign to the tune of a billion bucks and still have more billions left over in his bank account. To put that in perspective, a billion bucks is a thousand million dollars – meaning The Donald could spend almost $3 million a day, every day, for the next year without asking anyone else for a penny.

Along with that kind of financial independence comes independence from mouthing someone else’s message because they basically paid you to do so. Hence, Trump can tell stories about giving money to the Clintons and then having Hillary attend his wedding because he called in the chits his donation bought – and use that example to illustrate the basic corruption of the politics for sale system.

It also buys him independence from the Republican Party – an unheard of position in presidential campaigns. When pressed to say whether he’d support the Republican candidate should he not be nominated, Trump said “no.” The gasp that went across the astounded party loyalists was heard worldwide. And with it came a distinct smell of fear at the prospect of Trump running as an Independent, splitting the Republican voters and ultimately handing the presidency to, supposedly, Hillary Clinton.

But hey, not so fast on that coronation of Hillary Clinton to the presidency. Seems like the latest poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters found Bernie Sanders with a 44-37 percent lead over Hillary in that bellwether state despite Clinton’s significant campaign war chest advantage garnered mostly from the usual deep-pocket suspects.

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Even more shocking are the actual numbers attending Sander’s nationwide speaking appearances. While Clinton has managed to pull a maximum crowd of about 5,500 at best, Sanders is experiencing blowout crowds that overflow his speaking venues by thousands of excited, enthusiastic supporters anxious to hear his message.

In Portland, Oregon, Sanders’ campaign had to change the location from a space that held 12,000 to the arena of the Portland Trailblazers, which was estimated to hold 19,000. Yet even that fell far short of capacity for the estimated 28,000 people who showed up. It was the largest crowd of any presidential candidate to that point and obviously wasn’t a fluke given that the same thing happened in Los Angeles and Seattle for another estimated 40,000 supporters.

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Unlike Trump, Sanders’ campaign proudly proclaims it’s “powered by real people, not billionaires and super PACs” and promises to “take this country back from the billionaire class.” Can’t get much more in the face of traditional beg-and-serve candidates than that, and the response has been overwhelming.

What’s got the pundits tied in knots is that these two candidates are running completely counter to politics as usual and they’re at a loss to explain their success, especially with such very different messages and approaches.

One thing the two men have in common seems to be an unrelenting desire to tell voters the truth about politics in America today. Trump by showing absolutely no deference to rich donors, Republican Party hacks or their allies in the media; and Sanders by assailing the deplorable economic inequality that has America’s 99 percent ready to take up pitchforks to storm the castles of the 1 percenters who are skimming an undue share of the cream off the top.

There’s certainly plenty of time for things to change between now and the nominating conventions. But for now, Trump and Sanders are exposing the soft underbelly of politics as usual and drawing excited support from voters for doing so.

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George Ochenski's column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. Contact him at oped@missoulian.com.

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