We often hear the question why is there such a dearth of good candidates (or for that matter any candidates) running for important offices both locally and beyond?

The answers have long been known: It requires strong name recognition, heavy financial support, and a willingness to go through the crucible of punishment by press that accompanies almost every campaign, the scorn of those who oppose you, and, finally, dedication to performance of what are often thankless tasks.

Any volunteers?

Running for public office is rarely a joyride and there can only be one winner. History is strewn with road kills including many highly qualified candidates who took one wrong turn, committed an indiscretion, missed a filing deadline, posed for an unfortunate photo, or made an offhand comment to which their future was forever linked.

Of course there are candidates with congenital defects too great to overcome whatever advantages may have led them to run in the first place who will not stop from trying.

Fortunately we have a system which has a self-winnowing effect that ultimately filters out by a process of natural attrition the most undesirable contenders generally leaving those deemed most worthy to battle it out for the prize.

Whatever one may think of what seems to be an interminable number of primaries and the entertaining debates, the greater the opportunity for exposure the more likely character strengths and defects will be revealed, speech gaffes perhaps addressed and positions clarified or possibly muddied even more.

With all the winnowing, the system is by no means foolproof and we have chosen leaders—whether mayors, governors, congressional representatives or presidents— who upon further examination may not have been the best choice for the job.

But by then it’s too late and once the powers of incumbency kick in, barring commission of a major crime, a significant medical problem or a tragedy, in most election cycles the winners are eventually predictable.

Not so easy this time around with a presidential scuffle featuring a crowded GOP field and half dozen maverick candidacies in both camps that is confounding the odds makers.

What makes the 2016 presidential campaign so tantalizing is the absence of any incumbent to run against which challenges the voters to sort out those White-House worthy from the skillful posturers.

Perhaps surprisingly, voters over the decades have—with some notable exceptions—been reasonably adept in choosing their presidents. What is striking, however, is the dearth of voters who take any interest at all in the exercise.

Average turnout in presidential elections is roughly 60%. In l976, 65% turned out when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford—still a record high in the modern era. 64% voted in the Kennedy-Nixon contest in 1960. In 2008, 63% voted in the Obama-McCain match-up.

In the mid-term elections it dips to about 40%. The 36.4% national turnout for the 2014 mid-terms was the lowest in 72 years. The same year, California scored a record low 42.2% for a general election. In the June primary, the 18.3% who voted was the lowest in the state’s history!

By comparison in other democracies such as Sweden, Italy and Austria 80% of those eligible typically vote. In Australia, Belgium and Chile where voting is compulsory, 90% turnouts are common.

The explanations for this apathy are more complex. Responses range from, “what difference would it make?” to “my candidate doesn’t stand a chance,” to “I didn’t have the time.” To “they are all lying anyway.”

One school of thought has it that voter disinterest is a sign of general satisfaction with the status quo which could stand a little tweaking here and there, but certainly no cause for rushing to the polls to push for wholesale change. That doesn’t seem to capture the prevailing mood in the country today where confidence in government has reached all-time lows.

Looking beyond these flip generalizations, there are more troubling reasons for voter alienation ranging from seething discontent with lawmakers that promise much and often deliver little and a system driven more so by the millions which pour into a favored candidate’s coffers as by high-minded goals.

Also, there is ample evidence that, in the absence of a uniform, nation-wide method of balloting using universally acceptable technology, voting regulations which vary state by state has led to Election Day irregularities and even outright fraud in some places.

These are the subject of continuous investigations including bi-partisan efforts to weed out the culprits. But in the high-stakes games that permeate presidential politics, consensus on where to place blame is elusive and even undesirable if your side is winning, thereby breeding only more cynicism.

Volatility is a trademark of our elections which this year has been thrown into unusual disequilibrium because of the forthcoming vacancy in the Oval Office with no clear successor in one Party and a very inviting target in the other.

The presidential headwinds are severe enough to have brightened the hopes of some candidates who would normally be deemed too exotic by conventional standards—Bernie Sanders on a Far Left fringe of his own to the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Chris Christie and even Carly Fiorina for different reasons on the opposite side.

None of them are being taken very seriously by the political class and the pollsters to get the top spot. But the voters may be seeing things differently as they did in 2008 when a little known back-bench Senator came out of nowhere to snatch the Democratic nomination and something more.

This sudden spurt of interest in non-mainstream candidates could heighten voter turnout next year which could augur strongly for an old-fashioned brokered convention in the GOP if no single candidate can muster a decisive majority.

Of course one contestant, whose Custer’s Charge to glory has broken all the rules of modern campaign etiquette in what may be a first for American politics, is currently sweeping up everything and anyone in his wake. That would be Donald Trump.

How long this combination scorched earth-vaudeville act will run remains to be seen.  It will be tested first through a curious system which allows the good burghers of Iowa and New Hampshire—that together account for a miniscule percentage of the national electorate—to make the initial determination as to who is to be reckoned with.

These quadrennial spectacles are still over 4 months away and Trump’s leads in both states could erode significantly by then if and when some of his GOP opponents are capable of and willing to pierce “the Donald’s” veil of invincibility. Jeb Bush appears the readiest to take him on but could fear the backlash.

Even so, if the results are not to his liking, Trump has threatened to launch a third party of his own.

His was an improbable candidacy from the outset but he has become the perfect crucible for voters disgusted with politics as usual looking to embrace a hero even if a neophyte (and perhaps because of that) with no elective pedigree.

Trump’s blatant disdain for a government system over which he feels compelled to take command sounds very much like some dictators of the past.

This may be stirring voters who feel marginalized out of their apathy but it spells only more turmoil for a party that wants a winner, not a hero.