There has been much international concern at how maverick candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson dominate the Republican poll ratings.
The Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack in California seems to have inspired both of them to come out with more outrageous remarks.
Trump, for example, has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States - and in some polls has seen his numbers rise as a consequence.
These concerns, expressed both by Americans and foreign commentators, are misplaced. If anything, there is evidence that the IS attack has helped focus the minds of serious voters on the election campaign and brought a hard policy issue - national security - to the forefront of the debate. Americans are at last paying attention to their elections.
The Trump phenomenon is not unusual in the run-up to the first primaries - evidence shows serious voters begin to evaluate the candidates only in the weeks after the new year begins. He and Mr Carson have been fighting over the same roughly 40% in the Republican polls. Mr Trump’s rise has been at Carson’s expense and reflects a belief among the fringe right that the former has better credentials when national security is concerned.
But the reality is that once the wider electorate is considered and those who have a habit of not showing up to vote are subtracted, Mr Trump’s support has bounced back and forth between six and eight per cent of the likely voters. He is a phenomenon that is destined to fade. The California terror attack, however, seems to have begun separating the grain from the chaff.
The overcrowded Republican field is now resolving itself with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio slowly but steadily separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Jeb Bush is not a lost cause, but he is a declining one. The Democratic field was never in much doubt, but Hillary Clinton has now increased her lead by nearly 50% since October, making her undefeatable within her own party.
The campaign has begun the transition from being entertainment to genuine politics. The response to the IS attack has shown that the foreign policy differences between the mainstream candidates are not nearly as great as anyone would have thought. There seem to be few takers for the isolationist mindset of President Barack Obama.
The US is likely to return to being an active international player in the security field with the next presidency, despite Mr Obama’s attempts to reduce his country’s capacities and interest in global security. The IS and China alone are forcing that change. The real US presidential battles will be over social policy on the home front.