November 5, 2015 5:37 AM EST

This is quite a race. And we are still in the pregame. What is most interesting so far?

The rise of the outsiders–Trump, Carson, Fiorina–and the decline of the insider, Jeb. Lee Atwater had a phrase for when the voters made clear they were no longer enamored of something: “The dawgs don’ like the dawg food!” So far in 2015, Republicans are making clear they have lost respect for their party’s political class and the other party’s too.

After 9/11, you wrote that the U.S. was a lucky country and that some Americans had forgotten that. Fourteen years later, do you think Americans are more grateful?

Yes, I think I’d say that: 9/11 was the trauma that changed everything. We lost the national luxury of assuming nice things will happen.

You were tough on George W. Bush when he vowed in his second Inaugural to rid the world of tyranny–and you called Obama’s 2014 State of the Union delusional. What does re-election do to our leaders?

All but the most stubbornly sturdy of them can be affected by the daily world they live in, which is too heightened, too full of over-the-top adoration and denunciation. You have to be a pretty tough customer not to let all that affect your thinking.

You admit that columnists have hot and cold streaks. Who do you read religiously?

I never miss anything by Heather MacDonald or Megan McArdle. I read every columnist for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and syndicated and local columnists of left and right. I love columnists. I relate to their desperation and lone-cowboyness.

–MICHAEL DUFFY

This appears in the November 16, 2015 issue of TIME.

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