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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.