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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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue