Presidential hopeful GOPs Donald Trump: When the age that we live in becomes chaotic, cruel or unjust, we often turn to art to try and understand it.iStock

Dublin: Disbelief is the dominant sentiment among Irish people watching the American election play out.

The historic support for Hillary Clinton is still there in Ireland. Yet there is a sneaking regard for Senator Bernie Sanders and the way he is challenging American capitalism. On the other hand, there is nothing other than distaste when it comes to Donald Trump.

As an Irish American living in Ireland I’m just as confused by what is happening. The Republican debate on Saturday night which almost came to a brawl was typical of what we have been seeing and hearing. Are there no adults left in GOP politics?

Trump is widely despised in Ireland. His stance on immigration, in particular, has provoked the anger of Irish people who themselves were once emigrants or whose children are now. To them, he is the quintessential ugly American, shooting his mouth off with Rambo-type solutions for every problems. It sounds like he wants to bomb and blast and ban anyone and everyone who disagrees with him.

Senator Sanders is someone the Irish people can’t quite get a handle on. They appreciate his critique of the numerous things they just don’t get about America. Irish men and women cannot accept that, in the US, health care is not a right; that a university education can cost more than a quarter of a million dollars; and that there is an inadequate safety net for those who fall through the cracks of society. They consider Senator Sanders’ persona, however, and wonder whether he is the right messenger on these matters.

Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hand with VP Joe Biden.

Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hand with VP Joe Biden.

Bernie and The Donald have certainly defied expectations. Indeed, one can only fantasize about the windfall a €10 bet one year ago on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to to both triumph in the New Hampshire primaries by double digit margins. It almost certainly would have covered two round trip transatlantic flights – and maybe a nice meal, followed by a few pints!

But as that horrible, meaningless saying goes, “we are where we are.” Now that we are here, it’s appropriate to consider why Trump and Senator Sanders have garnered so many votes and where things are likely to head from here.

First, those of us who like to think we know something about politics have to acknowledge that we were wrong to claim that the repeated polls manifesting the strong appeal of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were illusionary. Irish people now understand both men have strong and active followers and are in this for the long haul.

Second, it is clear the power of the establishments of the two main political parties has greatly diminished. Trump and Sanders, neither of whom received any meaningful endorsements from elected officials in Iowa or New Hampshire, both skated home. So much for the establishment.

By way of example, even the prodigious ground game of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in southern New Hampshire, where there are tens of thousands of eastern Massachusetts transplants, was of little tangible benefit to Hillary Clinton.

Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Read more: The only choice for US President can be Hillary Clinton

Third, the anger and desperation that flow from the increasingly popular perceptions that the “American Dream” is vanishing and that politicians and government primarily serve the interests of the “1%” have been broadly recognized.

Something similar is happening in Ireland since the financial crisis when the working poor numbers just shot up and have remained high.

The success of Trump and Sanders shows that the strength of that anger and desperation has been equally broadly underestimated.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, because of the family's major involvement in the peace process, will always be a highly popular figure here as will her husband. All we need to do is look north and see there is a working peace process, warts and all, and an end to The Troubles.

On a personal level Trump is well known in Ireland and widely disliked. There was even an attempt to ban Trump from the country. After his immigration remarks Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny said Trump was whipping up an outrageous and dangerous hysteria against the undocumented, including the Irish.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny.

Left wing member of the Dail Richard Boyd Barrett said it was the same Donald Trump, “whom the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, met in Shannon Airport in May 2014 with a red carpet, harps and people in traditional Irish dress in what was frankly, even at the time, quite a ludicrous show of deference to this multi-billionaire’’.

He was referring to Trump’s purchase of a golf course near Shannon airport and the over-the-top reception that greeted him.

A very long and hard slog of a campaign may lie ahead, It could even be determined on the convention floor in Cleveland.

On the Democratic side, the Clinton campaign must aggressively court President Obama’s support. He could do wonders for her publicly and behind the scenes. Yet none of this is guaranteed to finish off the undeniable phenomenon of Bernie Sanders.

No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead, however, 2016’s presidential campaign has already dealt a big blow to all in Ireland who think they know American politics. Collectively, and with a view to an even more unpredictable future, we need to ask ourselves: What the hell do we know?

* Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a regular contributor to Irish media outlets on politics, current affairs and law.

Read more: Trump’s anti-Catholic rhetoric rises before South Carolina Primary