Americans don’t really pay attention to politics until after Labor Day. Well, that’s what journalists like to say, hoping that people will finally lose interest in the silly-season stories that reporters have had to cover for the past three months. In 2015, the overexposed summer story has been the presidential campaign of a man who, until he announced, was thought to be too unpopular to take seriously. As we head into a supposedly more sober part of the calendar, here are some of the questions that will drive political news:
1) Will the second Republican presidential debate, on September 16 (the same night Hillary Clinton visits Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show), finally signal the end of the Summer of Trump? Or will it mark the point at which Jeb! turns from a president-in-waiting to the Bush who stayed too long at the party?
2) Will the Federal Reserve Board raise interest rates when it meets on September 16 and 17? Will presidential candidates decry either decision as an indictment of the Obama administration—either because the economy isn’t yet strong enough to raise rates or because, you know, interest rates are going up?
3) Will the Republican resolve to repeal “Obamacare” strengthen or weaken with new data, scheduled for release by the Census Bureau on September 16, on the number of Americans who now have health insurance?
4) What will be the impact from Pope Francis’s visit to the United States in late September and his addresses to Congress (on September 24) and the United Nations? Will American politicians respond to the substance of his speeches or merely the theatrics of the visit—and who will applaud, and when, when they’re on camera during his speech to Congress?
5) Will Republicans in Congress shut down the government before the last day of the fiscal year, on September 30? Are the hardliners most concerned with defunding Planned Parenthood—or defenestrating Speaker of the House John Boehner?
6) Will the Democratic presidential debates, which begin on October 13 in Nevada, rejuvenate the campaign of Hillary Clinton by giving her the chance to appear in command, or will they reinforce the idea that she is incapable of rousing passion? Will she be able to avoid flinching at the sound of the word “email”? And will the Democrats attract audiences as large as those watching Trump and Friends?
7) Will there be any lessons for American politics from the Canadian national election on October 19, when the populist New Democratic Party (promising subsidized child care and higher taxes on corporations) may take control for the first time in history, ending the duopoly of the Conservatives and Liberals? Or will the sighting of Canada in news headlines merely prompt calls for a wall across our northern border?
8) Will the United Nations climate-change conference, beginning on November 30, pierce American public consciousness? Will the pope raise awareness of global warming during his September visit, and will the press start demanding that Donald Trump and other presidential candidates make coherent statements on the topic? Among those concerned with climate change, will fatalism take hold—or will they embrace the idea that, as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, writes, there is still “the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible”?
9) Will the annual Census Bureau estimates on state population, released in December, portend a continued shift in political power to the South and West? And will Hillary Clinton and other national candidates respond by dropping more g’s?
10) Will the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, detailing the organization’s role in selling organs and tissues from aborted fetuses, have a long-term effect on the way Americans think about abortion? Notwithstanding the furor in Congress (see Question 3), will the debate over abortion mostly involve state law, such as the proposed legislation in Ohio that would ban the use of abortion to avoid having a baby with Down syndrome?
11) Will the Black Lives Matter movement assume a long-term role in American politics—either in the halls of power (by working toward specific policies around police training, diversity in law enforcement, and the curbing of excessive fines and other “monetary punishments”) or on the streets (through protests and rallies)? Will estimates of rising homicide rates in certain cities sour the public on efforts to reduce police misconduct and on the larger issue of criminal-justice reform? And will a call for “law and order,” as Donald Trump puts it, once again become a litmus test for Republican candidates?
12) Will public opinion continue to turn against gun control, or is there an opening for a compromise on accessibility to deadly weapons? What would be the reaction to a mass shooting committed by someone who made (or “printed”) his own gun? Will there ever be a national discussion about the use of guns in suicides, much more common than murders involving firearms?
13) Will the drive for a higher minimum wage become a national issue, or will minimum-wage hikes continue only at the state and local levels? And will the combination of a low unemployment rate and stagnant wages be seen as a problem presidential candidates must address, or simply a new economic reality?
14) After the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage at the national level, will there be momentum for a federal law banning anti-gay discrimination in employment and housing—or will the debate shift to “religious freedom” laws protecting the right not to associate with gays and lesbians? (And is the case of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, brieflyjailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses, the beginning or the end of resistance to the Supreme Court decision?)
15) Will caucusgoers and primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire—or, rather, the tiny minority of them who will speak to pollsters this fall—try to justify their states’ exalted reputation for independence by boosting long-shot candidates? Will those candidates be Ben Carson in Iowa and John Kasich in New Hampshire, or have they already peaked? And will political scientists get anywhere pointing out that poor response rates are making public opinion polls less and less reliable?
16) Will Joe Biden run for president? If yes, will display heretofore hidden talents at assembling a national campaign, or will he simply show up at debates? And if he runs, will he receive absolution from Sen. Elizabeth Warren for carrying the water for credit-card companies based in Delaware?
17) Will Republican elected officials finally make endorsements in the presidential race (they’ve been unusually quiet), and will they matter?
18) Can Donald Trump sustain his presidential campaign with urban legends and generalities, or will he be forced to come up with policy specifics? Does he care that New York Times columnist David Brooks daydreams about a “sensible Donald Trump” appearing on the scene to channel “disgust for the political system” into “the notion that we are still one people, compelled by love of country to live with one another”? (Does Brooks realize that Jeb! is already that candidate and isn’t doing so well?) Will there be a heavy advertising campaign against Trump, and who will fund it—other candidates, super PACs, or anti-tax think tanks?
19) Will proponents of immigration and advocates for immigrants—and perhaps the pope and even the contry of Mexico itself—fight back against the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republicans? Contra Hillary Clinton, are personal stories and appeals to the heart the best strategy against Trump? Will attitudes toward immigrants change in light of the Syrian refugee crisis, and will Democrat Martin O’Malley and the more cautious Republican Marco Rubio find support for accepting more refugees in the U.S.?
20) Will Donald Trump put his name to a coherent tax plan, and will it be consistent with his past comments, such as: “I would let people making hundreds of millions of dollars-a-year pay some tax, because right now they are paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous”? In the meantime, will Jeb! Bush turn around his campaign with a more traditionally Republican promise to cut corporate and personal income taxes? In other words, is the enthusiastic support of Steve Forbes just what Bush needs to win the New Hampshire primary?
21) Will big campaign donors keep more than a dozen Republican presidential candidates in the race (even though primary voters usually just choose from the top two or three candidates)? Will millions of dollars in campaign commercials change the Republican race this fall, or at least take the focus off Donald Trump? And will candidates refuse to drop out after what were once thought campaign-ending moments (e.g., Rick Perry’s “Oops”) because Trump has survived worse?
22) Will the excitement around “outsider” candidates like Trump, Carson, and Sanders lead to more Americans registering to vote in time to participate in next winter’s primaries and caucuses? Or will it simply lead to Facebook unfriendings and revoked Thanksgiving invitations?
23) Will there be a serious fight for control of the U.S. Senate and House next year—i.e., will the Democrats recruit strong candidates this fall, when there’s still time to build campaigns? For example, will the Democrats convince New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan to challenge incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte?
24) Will access to affordable housing become as big a political issue as access to health care? Will there be a backlash to “smart growth” development policies? Will there be support for policies aimed at reducing housing segregation (which results in racially segregated public schools), or will such efforts be dismissed as “social engineering”?
25) What will be the next great political series on television? Will “Scandal” continue to reign, or will “Madam Secretary” get more buzz in its second season? Will “The Good Wife” plausibly pull off its promised storyline of Peter Florrick running for president against Hillary Clinton—and is there a beloved Broadway actor on deck to play Bernie Sanders if necessary?