The most shocking news out of the US presidential election race in the past week is not the continuing surge of Donald Trump. Rather, it is the startling news that Hillary Clinton is in trouble. All the attention to date has been on the Republican race where the underperforming establishment candidates have all but been banished from the race by upstarts and mavericks and the contest now seems to be a three-way contest between Donald Trump, senator Ted Cruz and senator Marco Rubio.
But the ongoing assumption has been that whichever of these men won the Republican nomination, there was no question that the Democratic contender would be Clinton en route to her date with destiny.
Indeed, the likelihood of her becoming not just President but, finally, the first woman to achieve that office, was enhanced by the numbers of bewildered Republicans who, unable to accept a Trump or a Cruz, were planning on voting for her. She was at least a stable and known quantity, they reasoned, with a legislative and administrative track record who would be able to govern while they rolled up their sleeves and tried to save the Republican Party.
Now, however, all those assumptions are in tatters as Clinton slips rapidly in the national polls and her main Democratic rival looks as if he could win the first two contests: the Iowa caucuses on February 1 and the New Hampshire primary on February 9.
Not only that. The New York Times this past week reported Clinton now faces "a long slog" against Bernie Sanders that could last until May and could see her having to upgrade, or even initiate, her operations in places as varied as Pennsylvania and Guam.
In 2008, Clinton's seeming sure-thing ride to the White House was derailed by a smart young African-American senator named Barack Obama. He blindsided her with his populist fundraising tactics, his massive on-the-ground volunteer effort and his strategic smarts. He actually won the nomination with fewer votes than Clinton, whose lumbering and inefficient campaign was totally outwitted.
Clinton's nightmare in 2016 was surely that she might be facing a smart young Hispanic senator named Marco Rubio as her presidential campaign foe and that, once again, she would be defeated by demographics and the unstoppable yearning by a disaffected group for the political acceptance of occupying the White House. This could still happen of course, although the likelihood is receding for a number of reasons.
Never in a million years could Clinton have thought that she would be fighting primary-to-primary in her own party with a surging male competitor who is older, more left-wing and more likeable than she is.
She could perhaps be forgiven for not taking Sanders seriously as a rival. A socialist senator from Vermont! Perhaps he could do well in neighbouring New Hampshire but how could he possible appeal to mainstream Americans?
In the past week, Sanders has not just closed in on Clinton in the first two primary contests but his national numbers have risen sharply. It is very early days to be taking national polls seriously. They don't really make much sense until the two candidates have been selected but it is not too soon to notice that something major is happening in American politics.
"A revolution is taking place in our presidential campaign," writes Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political observer who has covered Washington since the 1970s for such publications as the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker and, currently, the New York Review of Books. "Politically, this country is in a new place," she claimed last week.
It is not just the fear, anger and resentment of ordinary Americans about what has happened to their standard of living, and which Trump has exploited masterfully. The current political malaise represents a fundamental repudiation of the way politics has been conducted – especially at the national level.
Drew contends that, for the first time, people are willing to act on the fact they are "palpably upset" by their loss of control of the political system to those who can buy power. Political corruption was once seen as a Beltway thing, beyond the comprehension let alone the control of ordinary voters. But now they are fed up with the establishment and its pandering to those who can pay (lobbyists, etc) while others' votes are meaningless. This is what is behind the repudiation of the establishment candidates – Bush, Christie and, now, Clinton. Instead, says Drew, Sanders and Trump are seen as incorruptible.
The seriousness of Clinton's situation is evidenced by two things. First, her fundraising is no longer her uncontested advantage. In the last quarter of 2015 Sanders raised $US33 million ($47 million), just $US4 million less than Clinton. More telling, his average donation was just $US27, meaning he can go back for more, where Clinton's donors give larger amounts and many have exhausted the $US2700 limit on individuals gifts. If she loses primaries, her funds will dry up.
Worse is the seeming disarray of the Clinton campaign. If The New York Times (no friend of Clinton's) is to be believed, she has few people on the ground in the Super Tuesday Southern states, while Sanders is organised. It seems unimaginable that Clinton could repeat the mistakes of 2008, with poor organisation, messaging that is tin-eared or worse and an inability for the candidate to overcome her natural disadvantages in order to campaign well.
Clinton is not liked. She is seen as cold and controlling – and that's by people who like her. Those who don't have far, far harsher criticisms. But there is no escaping that she is no orator like Obama. She is no populist like Trump. What must really hurt her, though, is that she is seen as less likeable than the grumpy 74-year-old senator from Vermont.
Sanders leads all candidates when it comes to likeability. He is shown as beating Trump, Cruz and Rubio as well as Clinton. Unbelievable, one would have thought only a few weeks ago. And of course it might not last. Or the surge might continue and the revolution in American politics might just deliver a President like no other before him. America's first Jewish president. American's first socialist President and America's oldest president (he would be six years older than Reagan was when he assumed office).
Can it happen? The panicky tone of the Clinton campaign emails and other messages this week suggests they think so.
Anne Summers is the editor and publisher of the free online magazine Anne Summers Reports.