This presidential election is very much about optics —a battle of perceptions which may or may not reflect the real world of stubborn realities, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are so far winning it quite handily.

Is what we are viewing merely an illusion which will fade away as the serious matter of governing takes precedence over the capricious ebbs and flows of campaigning or have we entered a new era of The Implausible Presidency?

We will not know until this extraordinary even comical at times yet deadly serious road show plays out.

Whether these insurgents—one from outside, the other from within— are spinning tales that have put voters into a temporary hypnotic trance or are accurately foretelling a disturbing and uncertain future that will throw American politics into turmoil for years to come remains to be seen.

For now all that matters is their seizure of the moment, the unleashing of forces that have bedeviled the experts who have been instructing us how these elections are supposed to turn out using computer models and unimpeachable data that have become suspect.

In 2016 you can toss out the usual predictors of success or failure.  There is an angry mood in the land now gone viral which might give better odds to finding a cancer cure or a permanent solution for California’s drought.

The rumpled, bespectacled, defiant Sanders is a taught, tightly wound up, grayish ball of emotional energy who captivates audiences with an intensity and passion that his rival, Hillary Clinton, has not been able to match.  Not yet anyway.

Depending on which polls you want to believe  this has put Sanders only 10 points behind Clinton RealClear Politics, or in a statistical dead heatTHE FIELD POLL  just days before the June 7 California primary.

Trump, who has vanquished 16 adversaries along the way, continues to spill out quaint aphorisms as they come to him which creates the illusion of knowledge by the unwavering certitude with which they are delivered, not through any meaningful analysis.

In Fresno he just told a receptive crowd there is “no drought” in California!

He also considers the NATO alliance a failure from which we should withdraw support; sees no problem with Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea becoming nuclear states; considers torture an appropriate punishment for killing the families of suspected terrorists; and would  order the mass round-up and deportation of 11 million men, women and children who are not here legally.

Through sheer force of will, the real estate mogul has tamed his entire party which appears to be in disbelief that he is pulling this off just as Democrats are wondering how an obscure socialism-preaching Senator from a pint-sized state still thinks he can wrest the nomination from a well-positioned opponent.

If either is somehow elected many of their fanciful notions are likely headed for judicial censure or the legislative dust bin in less time than is required to take the oath.

For Trump these include Mexican walls (paid for by the Mexicans), abolishment of the EPA, the total dismantlement of the Affordable Care Act; getting  rid of gun-free zones in schools; and barring all Muslims from entering the U.S.

Sanders is calling for free tuition for all public colleges and universities. The tricky part is the word “free.”

The cost of doing this would be at the estimated price of $75 billion, two-thirds of which he would have paid by a tax on Wall Street speculation.

Even if that could fly in the current Congress—a dubious prospect— the remaining one-third would have to be matched by the states many of which oppose any expansion of Medicaid  which allows for much more favorable cost-sharing.

But that is getting ahead of the script.

Sanders and Trump have tapped into some deep fissures in America’s political DNA that have been bubbling up just under the surface for decades which many of the old Washington hands appear not to have noticed.

The seeds of anti-government, anti-Establishment discontent that are powering these candidacies have sprung full grown and the rallying cries have turned into full-fledged rebellions.

But the conditions—joblessness, wage depreciation, global insecurity—which brought them about have been brewing for a long time with the splintering of party factions at an accelerating rate to a degree unforeseen.

The vocal liberal wing of Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party was willing to accept his curtsies to the Right on crime control, lack of government transparency, even Wall Street coziness, during a peacetime, prospering economy.  Not so with today’s youth—-nearing 80 million strong.

Similarly, the GOP’s social conservatives have parted ways with the Reagan era moderates in an all-out struggle over values that they are determined to win despite opposition from the more conciliatory pragmatists led by Speaker Paul Ryan.

Both parties are seeking footing where the center no longer holds, and the beneficiaries are two agnostics either of whom could still be president.

Trump and Sanders have sounded chords reminiscent of the speechifying by Howard Beale, the embittered TV commentator about to be canned for poor ratings as portrayed by Peter Finch in the 1976 academy award-winning film Network who famously exhorts his viewers to shout from their windows, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!

Just to be clear, there are sharp differences between Sanders and Trump.

The previously unnoticeable Vermonter who few of his colleagues paid much attention to during 26 years in both the House and Senate blames a “rigged system’ that panders to the wealthy for much of the nation’s ills.

However as a product of the institutions he now enthusiastically disparages he has accomplished the not so insignificant feat of convincing his youthful followers that the fault lies with those on Wall Street and in the Board rooms who have gamed that system.

Trump’s beef is not with the wealthy. He is one of them. But he would prefer they play by his rules, not theirs. That can only happen if he gets to sit at the head of the table where he enjoys bullying adversaries into submission.

Sanders would also like a front seat at the table but he does not need to run the meeting so long as his voice is heard and that’s why conventions have platform committees. He could even be a very credible running mate if Clinton decides she must patch up the deep sinkholes in her party.

Trump would just as soon have no running mate and certainly none that might steal his thunder.

As of now both are winning the optics battle except that Sanders, while there is little chance he will be handed the reins of government, has energized voters that he and Clinton both know she will need in November.

Trump owns the limelight and the master of illusions has been savvy enough to clear the path to nomination.

But it may not be sufficient to get back all those he continues to alienate who must be turned around if he is to have any chance of getting elected.