Harsh realities slam into 2016 race

Story highlights

  • David Gergen: Phase one of the presidential campaign may be about to end
  • Economic woes, the Pope's visit and the Iran debate could scramble the campaign, he says

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at The Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Ring down the curtain on Act I of the 2016 presidential race!

David Gergen
With financial markets now on a precipice and other public events about to unfold, we are entering a new, more serious phase in politics that could easily scramble the pack.
Context matters enormously in leadership, shaping our perceptions of who is well suited for the times. Think back to Winston Churchill: In the late 1930s Brits hated the idea of another war and favored appeasers like Neville Chamberlain. As Churchill railed against the dangers of Hitler, he seemed old, cantankerous and washed up. But when war came, Brits swiftly made Churchill their leader because suddenly they needed his strength, self-confidence, and capacity to rally the country.
    This summer Americans have been mostly amused -- or appalled -- by the quality of early presidential campaigning. But we haven't yet been serious. Stories about Donald Trump's antics, whether to repeal the 14th Amendment, or even about email servers have been our beach reading, a diversion from the weightier issues of our times.
    Now, however, the perilous nosedive of stock markets around the world should jolt us back to a harsher reality. We probably w