Could the US presidential race be Jeb Bush versus Hillary Clinton? Photo: Getty
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The US election countdown begins with Jeb Bush leading the way

Although election day is two years away, candidates have already begun jostling for the US presidency.

Former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, the brother and son of former US presidents George W Bush and George HW Bush respectively, announced on Tuesday that he is “exploring a 2016 presidential bid”. He will set up a leadership Political Action Committee in January, “that will facilitate conversations with citizens across America”, in what is very likely to be a stepping stone to formally announcing his candidacy in 2015.

Although general election day remains almost two years away, Bush’s announcement is the clearest sign yet that the Republican field is already beginning to mobilise to replace Barack Obama in what appears likely to ultimately be a political fight for the White House against Democrat Hillary Clinton. In the probable event that Bush ultimately decides to run, he will be a formidable candidate but potentially face a large field of other candidates for the Republican nomination.

Among the potential other contenders for the Republican crown are US Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, former US senator Rick Santorum, Governors Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and former governor Mike Huckabee. It is also mooted that either former governor Mitt Romney or US Representative Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidate respectively, might also run.

While the Republican race is therefore fluid, Clinton by contrast is the firm favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination. By numerous benchmarks, Clinton is one of the hottest favourites to win a presidential nomination in recent history. 

The past few decades of US political history indicates the victor in nomination contests for both major parties usually leads national polls of party identifiers on the eve of the first presidential nomination ballot, traditionally in Iowa, and also raises more campaign finance than any other candidate in the 12 months prior to election year.

From 1980 to 2012, for instance, the eventual nominee in eight of the 14 Democratic and Republican nomination races contested (that is, in which there was more than one candidate), was the early frontrunner by both of these two measures. This was true of George W Bush, the Republican candidate in 2000; Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000; Bob Dole, the Republican candidate in 1996; Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee in 1992; George HW Bush, the Republican candidate in 1988 and 1992; Walter Mondale, the Democratic nominee in 1984; and Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate in 1980.

Moreover, in at least three partial exceptions to this pattern, the eventual presidential nominee led the rest of the field on one of the two measures. This was true of Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.

For instance, in the race for the 2012 Republican nomination, Romney was the leading fundraiser, but sometimes trailed or was tied in national polls of party identifiers to Newt Gingrich immediately prior to the Iowa ballot. Moreover, in the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, Reagan (who ultimately won) led national polls of party identifiers, although John Connally was the leading fundraiser.

On both the fundraising and national poll measures, Clinton (should she run), is likely to be a very strong favourite for the Democrats in 2016. Indeed, so much so that some other potentially first-class candidates, including current Vice-President Joe Biden, may decide not to even enter the race.

For instance, a CNN national poll taken last month found that some 65 per cent of Democrats favour Clinton to win the party nomination, a whopping 55 percentage points more than any other candidate. In this context, she can afford to potentially delay formally declaring whether she is going to enter the race and seek, for a second time, to become the first female US president.

While Clinton is a very strong favourite to win the Democratic nomination, she may however still face a very tough general election race in 2016 against the eventual Republican nominee. One of the key factors that will influence Republican prospects of defeating her will be whether, and how quickly, the party can unite around its own nominee given the potentially large amount of contenders. 

A model here for Republicans is the 2000 cycle when George W Bush emerged strongly from a wide field of contenders before going on to defeat Gore. However, as Romney found in 2012, it may be hard to unify the party in such a decisive way in 2016 unless a clear favourite emerges early.

After two presidential terms of Democrat Obama in the White House, many Republican operatives will be keen to avoid a bruising, introspective and drawn-out contest that exposes significant intraparty division to the national electorate.  The last few times such a scenario unfolded the Republicans lost the general election.

Indeed, Clinton’s husband Bill benefited from this same dynamic in 1992 and went on to win a relatively comfortable victory in that year’s general election. While the circumstances of 2016 will be different from 1992, and indeed 2012 too, it is nonetheless the case that another divisive Republican nomination contest would probably only benefit the Democrats, and potentially be a tipping point, in a very tight general election contest.

Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics. He was formerly the US Editor at Oxford Analytica.

Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS (the Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy) at the London School of Economics.

 

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.