With the term of President Barack Obama coming to an end, the United States is only weeks away from the first primary election debates. In this post, we look at the various potential candidates that would be running for their respective nominations for the Blue or Red half in 2016.
In his second tilt at the Republican nomination, Huckabee plans to use harness the frustrations of blue-collar workers in order to capture the White House. It’s unlikely however, that the former Arkansas Governor will be able to count on the same strong support amongst social conservatives that he commanded in 2008. He also faces strong challenges from small government advocates, who point to tax increases whilst he was governor. Huckabee has always resonated with voters, many of whom are attracted by his down-to-earth attitude and principled conservatism but taking a break from politics during the 2012 presidential race may prove to be his downfall. Being absent from the national political scene has meant that Huckabee’s socially conservative base has been open to overtures of a new generations of social conservatives such as Ted Cruz. Despite the exposure provided by his Fox News program, social conservatives no longer see Huckabee as the de facto leader of their movement and the widespread success of gay marriage and other progressive social measures renders much of his moral platform irrelevant. Put simply, the political scene has moved on since 2008 and this, coupled with his lacklustre fundraising record, means that Huckabee has done his dash.
If there’s one thing that Ben Carson can’t be accused of, it’s being boring. The political profile of this tea party crusader is based almost entirely on the outrageous slurs he hurls at President Obama. Most recently, he accused the President of being a psychopath. Carson prides himself on not being a “politician” and his rags-to-neurosurgeon story is an inspirational real life Horatio Alger tale if nothing else. As well as lacking the political finesse of his more experienced rivals, Carson also appears to lack the policy depth as well as the nous to determine which policy will resonate best with the electorate. Recently, when asked in an interview on CNBC about his attitude towards Medicare, Carson revealed his plan to replace the system with federally subsidised health savings accounts on the basis that it would provide more “freedom”. Despite being demonstrably unworkable, such a policy is electoral kryptonite, especially with older voters, who will be influential at both the primaries and the general election. In spite of his strong campaign organisation, it seems increasingly unlikely that Carson will resile from his outrageous behaviour to date nor does it seem possible that his campaign will stand up to serious scrutiny. Carson is definitely one to watch – for entertainment value if nothing else – but the smart money says that he is unlikely to be anything more than a gadfly in the presidential race.
The entry of the former Hewlett-Packard CEO into the republican race is confusing to say the least. Fiorina is incredibly unlikely to win the nomination and appears to be content with criticising democrats and other progressive activists. Her business experience aside, Fiorina’s last political foray was a disastrous Senate campaign against Barbara Boxer in 2010 and she seems unlikely to be a serious contender in a field crowded with candidates with equal or greater business experience and far superior political experience. Fiorina’s only strength is her ability to criticise Hilary Clinton without the possible taint of sexism.
Rubio enjoys strong support across the Republican Party and a high public profile. As the son of Cuban refugees, the Florida Senator is hardly a typical Republican candidate and has strong cut through with all classes of voters. He’s even been sounding some liberal notes of late. Considered to be the candidate most likely to build consensus across the party and emerge as a compromise candidate, Rubio’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. His inoffensive acceptability as a “safe” pair of hands means that he is everybody’s second choice but nobody’s first. Despite this, Rubio’s ability to forge support across all factions of the party means that he remains a viable contender for the republican nomination.
Rand Paul is by far the most interesting of the “serious” candidates for the republican nomination. Like his maverick father, many of the Kentucky senator’s positions are outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. Paul’s stances on drugs, same-sex marriage, civil liberties and foreign policy put him at odds with many of the more socially conservative and hawkish candidates in the race. There have been signs of moderation in his positions however as he advocates a strong stand against ISIS – a move many see as an attempt to bury the hatchet with his more interventionist colleagues. Although many of Paul’s social policies would not be out of place in a Democratic Party manifesto, it is important note that his small government fiscal policies resonate strongly with libertarians, Tea Partiers and those seeking a more “hands off” approach from government. Paul’s advocacy against data retention and government surveillance also make him popular amongst younger voters and those concerned with civil liberties. Paul is a strong candidate for the nomination as his small government tendencies make him saleable to the Republican base, whilst his social views could well see him taking votes from the democrats.
Cruz represents the new breed of conservative that has arisen in response to the failures of the Obama administration. Aggressive and media-savvy, Cruz’s time in the senate has seen him establish a reputation as orator and provocateur. A staunch constitutionalist, Cruz has often been to the right of even his republican colleagues on issues such as gun control and immigration. Like Marco Rubio, Cruz is the son of a Cuban refugee and was educated at Princeton and Harvard, rising to become the first Hispanic Solicitor-General of Texas. In what he has described as the most diverse republican field in history, Cruz is shaping up to be an electable conservative candidate who can connect with voters and who has built an enviable public profile through his loud criticism of Barack Obama. His political hits on the President have been coupled however with a tendency to overreach. In the summer of 2014, Cruz accused the Obama administration of enforcing an economic boycott on Israel after the FAA suspended flights to Tel Aviv citing safety fears in the wake of rocket attacks upon the airport. Such buffoonery has the potential to harm Cruz’s credibility and discount him as a serious candidate. Similarly, although being the first presidential aspirant to declare his candidacy afforded Cruz a period of unrivalled media coverage, this is only his second political campaign and many insiders wonder whether he has the stamina to carry momentum through to the primaries.
Jeb Bush undoubtedly carries the endorsement of the Republican establishment in this race and although the establishment candidate has secured the party’s nomination in every election since 1984, it seems that this contest may not be such a lay down misere for Bush. For one, the field is much more crowded and competitive than it was in 2008 or 2012. In a race between big personalities and even bigger ideas, Bush needs to do more to stand out than what we’ve seen from him so far. The Bush brand is both a hindrance and help to his presidential aspirations. Many party activists campaigned for both his father and brother and feel a sense of allegiance to the family. The Bush fundraising machine is also formidable and unlikely to be matched by any other republican candidate with a less established brand. In short, Bush is a strong contender for the nomination but is by no means the frontrunner in such a crowded field.
Just when it finally looked like the end of Bridgegate had spelled the end of Christie’s legal woes, the governor’s administration is the focus of another inquiry – this time into the management of public sector pension funds. It seems that Christie just can’t catch a break and with an albatross this big around his neck, it’s unlikely he’ll be catching the Republican nomination either. Although Christie has great appeal to democrats and a well-oiled fundraising machine, he won’t be able to launch a viable campaign until the allegations surrounding his administration are resolved.
Scott Walker has emerged as a solid conservative contender for the nomination. His time as Wisconsin governor established his credentials as a small-government conservative and pugnacious Republican warrior. Walker’s three election wins in what is a relatively blue state also prove that he has appeal that crosses party lines. Recent attacks upon him by Barack Obama shows that the Democrats certainly rate him as a threat and mark his elevation from Badger State battler to the front ranks of Republican warfare against the president. With a lack of national electoral experience and a relatively bland personality, it’s unlikely that Walker will win the nomination but he’ll almost certainly have a podium finish.
Santorum has a similar problem to Mike Huckabee. Although the former Pennsylvania senator went far in 2012, the brand of social conservatism he advocates has been surpassed by the more nuanced conservatism of candidates like Ted Cruz. In a field rich with diversity and talent, it is difficult to see Santorum getting far. 2012, it ain’t.
Another 2012 contender returning for another joust, the former Texas Governor has been all but forgotten in recent years. His performance in his first tilt at the nomination was abysmal and his performance in the debates was especially embarrassing. Perry backers contend that this was due to painkillers that he was taking whilst recovering from back surgery but his form in the current race will be the test of those claims. When going head to head against other 2016 candidates, Perry seems the best placed to claim strength on the two issues that will feature squarely in this campaign: jobs and the economy. What’s more, Perry was governor not only of the state that is the geographic heart of American conservatism but has also been at the frontline of the fight against illegal immigration. Perry’s campaign is quiet and operating relatively under the conservative radar at the moment but it would be foolish to write the wily Texan off just yet.
At this stage, no-one knows if Sarah Palin is running – least of all, it seems, Sarah Palin. Although the former Alaska governor has added plenty of spark to the political scene in recent years, it’s by no means certain that she will run. Although her support base is vocal and at times fanatical, it is shrinking fast and being poached by more lucid conservatives like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker.
Although the South Carolina senator seems unlikely to win, he could have a significant role in the primary by pushing his hawkish foreign policy views. Similarly, he could cause serious problems for the bush campaign if he manages a decent showing in his home state.
The independent Vermont senator seems incredibly unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination. What does seem possible, however, is that he may be able to force the Clinton juggernaut to veer to the left. Sanders’ opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as his policies on areas such as university tuition and infrastructure are ideas that he wants to push into the mix during the primaries. Furthermore, many of his policy, such as free (or at least cheap) university education, have mainstream appeal and simply make sense. On top of this, Sanders has managed to pull strong fundraising numbers and his message could be eminently saleable to struggling middle class voters. Although he’s a long shot to win, Sanders may ensure that Clinton won’t secure the Democratic nomination without a fight.
So far, it appears that Hilary Clinton is in for smooth sailing in the Democratic primaries. Since she announced her nomination, there has been a lack of a viable challenger to what seems like her irresistible rise to the Democratic candidacy. If Clinton manages to show the retail politician who emerged in the second half of her 2008 campaign, she will undoubtedly be able to capture the nomination and perhaps the White House. Bernie Sanders may be able to force electorally unpalatable concessions from Clinton but he seems unlikely to be a real contender in the nomination race. Similarly, Martin O’Malley may pose a threat but his lack of national and international name recognition will be a major hindrance. Clinton’s other great asset is her husband, in both his stumping and strategic capacities. There is the not unlikely possibility however, that the gaffe-prone Bill may just stoke the fire already burning against Hilary following Benghazi and other incidents during her time as Secretary of State.
The candidacy of this Republican-turned-Democrat is quite frankly confusing. Chafee served in the Senate as a Republican and was then governor of Rhode Island as a independent and later a Democrat. It seems strange that a man who left office with a 26 per cent approval rating would try to seek national office – let alone the presidency of the United States – but then again, Chafee was the only Republican to vote against the Iraq War (something he will target Hilary Clinton on) so perhaps he’s just a little confused. Not much about Chafee is clear but it seems his campaign will centre around economic populism and attacking Clinton’s more hawkish foreign policy views.
Martin O’Malley is probably the only real competition for Hilary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination and he’s still an incredibly long shot. Despite two successful terms as governor of Maryland where he imposed a sweeping liberal agenda of gun control, gay marriage and an end to the death penalty, O’Malley has little name recognition outside of his home state. Despite this, O’Malley has an excellent resume and great fundraising potential. If the Clinton campaign falls apart, he might just be a good bet.
After running through each of their respective profiles, it can be agreed that on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favourite, despite being questioned over errors in the Clinton foundation and for erasing thousands of emails from her time as secretary of state. For the Republicans, Jeb Bush is a tentative front-runner but is not trusted by the conservative base. In any case, with an election that is considered more open and unpredictable than 2008 and 2012, this elections would no doubt promise to be more exciting.