Question: How many major political parties are there? The official answer is two. The reality is four.
Take the Democrats. They're split.
U.S. Sen. Bernard "Bernie" Sanders, 74, has been in public office since 1981. He lists himself as the only independent in the Senate and only became a Democrat to seek the nomination. Politically, he is consistent. Over time, his Robin Hood-ish message has not changed: Take from the rich, and give to the poor.
Sanders has always been to the left of the left. "I will invest $1 trillion to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure to put 13 million Americans to work in good jobs, invest $5.5 billion to employ 1 million young Americans and provide job-training to hundreds of thousands of others," he says. The source of "free everything" will be wealthy individuals and greedy corporations.
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The hiccup, as Margaret Thatcher said, is that even the richest rich are eventually tapped out. A government without a functioning private economy to fund it is like a catfish flopping on a dock.
Initially, Sanders was sized up as a mere pebble in the path to the anointing of Hillary Clinton. There is a base of people who agree with his math, but he's also getting the votes of fervent Democrats who have had their fill of Clintons.
Let's say Sanders is a Demo-Socialist.
Next, let's look at Clinton, 68. She won her first two public roles via marriage. She was then elected to the Senate from New York and was later appointed to the cabinet of President Obama, who saw great value in making his most fervent rival a member of his team.
Clinton's current quest began the night Obama was nominated eight years ago. She cannot be derailed. She has advanced steadily, helped in states with larger African-American populations, who, as a minority, choose wisely to remain unified.
While Sanders is ideologically pure, the greatest talent of Hillary and Bill is getting elected. Her loss to Obama was the only setback in three decades with her finger in the wind. Politically, she is the grand master of inconsistency. The former Wal-Mart board member is now pro-union. Ten years ago she said NAFTA was "proving its worth" and more recently she termed Obama's prized Trans-Pacific Partnership "the gold standard." Now she's not so sure. And that's just on trade deals. She is driven by competitiveness and desire to do good, not by ideals.
Let's call her party the Dem-Opportunists.
Donald John Trump is 69. His job in politics has been as a Mr. Moneybags. Records show he gave $1.3 million to candidates from 1989 to 2011, with 54 percent going to Democrats. He's given nearly another half-million since 2011, most of it to Republicans.
Observers love to say Trump has tapped into the anger of the working class. Sure enough, the past two presidents (like many before) have promised vastly more than has been delivered. "Hope and Change." "Real Plans for Real People." Expectations have been raised beyond all reason, yet not met. Big-tension topics -- international affairs, the debt, immigration, race -- persist and worsen with no resolution in sight. The income imbalance grows wider.
So, yes, there is frustration among those led to expect rainbows and unicorns and delivered drizzle and donkeys. They see an entrenched, fat and happy, ruling class that needs to be sent packing. Trump has positioned himself as a hard-charging outsider. Therefore anything he says or does is OK. Things need shaking up, and he will shake things up. End of story.
Let's call his group the Republo-Renegades.
As for everybody else, they are perhaps best represented by John Richard Kasich, 63.
Boring. Pragmatic. Hasn't called anybody an idiot or a liar.
His problem is that he is seen as an establishment guy in an anti-establishment season. He has the endorsement of former Sen. Trent Lott and others the Republo-Renegades believe have dithered long enough.
Let's say Kasich is a Re-Pragmaticist.
Well, even if there are four political parties -- or camps -- in the presidential contest, there are still only two major conventions, one for Republicans and one for Democrats.
So the primaries continue, and we wait to see who will emerge: The socialist? The opportunist? The renegade? The pragmatist?
Can't say the choices aren't clear this year.
If only it were a sport. If only the quality of life our children will experience were not decided by how we choose.
Write Charlie Mitchell, a Mississippi journalist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.