The conventional wisdom has always been: You can't win the presidency unless you capture the middle. So candidates who are nominated tend to soften their rhetoric to appeal to voters who are "in the middle" or moderates in both parties.
But there has been another strategy being practiced for quite some time now. That is to alienate the voters in the middle. Convince them that voting is useless. To do this, run negative campaign ads to smear your opponent, make outrageous statements to convince them that all hope of reasonable debate is lost, and at the same time rile up as many extremists as possible to vote for you.
And it seems to be working. The moderate voters feel lost, disgusted, and unable to support such extreme candidates or positions. More and more, it all looks like trying to decide between the lesser of two evils that are more evil than ever. So, eventually, many of them give up on the whole process, leaving our democracy in the hands of the extremists. Meanwhile, well meaning groups, such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, etc., keep shaming voters for being 'apathetic' and try to get them to vote anyway. I say they are not apathetic (for the most part) but more likely disgusted! Not voting is actually a protest, a message that "The System Stinks" and they want no part of it.
OK, not all candidates behave this badly. But when the race gets really ugly, what do you do? This is the dilemma faced by moderate candidates who don't wish to sling mud, or bring the debate down to the lowest levels. Their voices are drowned out while the press runs off to capture the latest outrageous statements made by the extreme candidates. This is why Congress is devoid of moderates.
I'll say more on where this goes in the future, in a subsequent post.