Democrats versus Republicans…..
In the last hundred years or so there have only been three occasions when an incumbent Party has won three Presidential elections on the trot – Harding, Coolidge and Hoover for the Republican Party (GOP) between 1920 and 1932; FDR for the Democrats – winning four elections from 1932 to 1944 and then Truman winning in 1948 to make it five in a row. and G. H Bush winning in 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan who served two full terms from 1980 to 1988. Al Gore almost did it in 2000 winning the popular vote but not winning where it mattered in the Electoral College. And G. W. Bush’s presidency possibly owed more to that Republican dominance from of the White House from 1968 to 1992 which had firmly tipped the balance in the Supreme Court towards conservative legists who refused to permit the rerun of the election in Florida which the Florida Supreme Court had ordered.
If the Midterm elections are any guide to anything – then the coming election should be a Republican victory. The GOP controls both Houses of Congress – picking up 9 seats in the Senate – and holding on firmly to its majority in the House of Representatives. Additionally, it also controls a majority of the state governorships and a good number of the State Houses across the nation. The victory is November 2014 was easy and convincing – except – except in the febrile state of US party politics old certainties no longer seem very certain.
The Republicans have no obvious candidates. Instead they have a string of flawed options. First is Governor Chris Christie who masterminded the victory in last November having won reelection as governor in a traditionally ‘blue’ (Democrat voting) state. Since that election Christie has struggled – there was a furore over events of the Washinton Bridge between NYC and NJ which has tainted the Governor’s reputation. Worse, all the polling within the state shows him trailing Hilary Clinton by 20 percentage points. The argument for Christie – he could win where no other Republicans can win – has evaporated. Under pressure of events the Governor’s notoriously short fuse has already blown a couple of times in public. Into this void have stepped two other ‘mainstream’ GOP favourites- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Their problems speak for themselves- Romney was a terribly wooden losing candidate in 2012. He still is as wooden as ever in the unforgiving Media gaze where Obama is so comfortable. Jeb Bush would be the third scion of the dynasty to reach for the highest office. In many ways a much more subtle intelligent politician than either his brother or his father – Jeb might well deserve to win – but he carries the Bush brand name and it is hard to see that baggage winning over the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He has half announced and immediately claimed the front of the crowded field – on a meagre 17% of the poll. These are not the numbers of a sure fire nomination winner.
The rest of the GOP field is strewn in wannabes like Mick Huckabee and Senator Marco Rubio – who have a broad appeal in the party but no appeal beyond the already reddest states and Tea Party favourites like Ron Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry. Outside this group stands Governor Scott Walker who has charisma but lacks a broader base in the party and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who has Asian ethnicity and a glib way with words but also a way of making enemies from friends. These look more like Vice Presidential hopefuls but many men can look themselves in the mirror and see the next President of the United States. One of those who is fond of mirrors is Mitt Romney’s erstwhile running mate gym giant Paul Ryan – right wing, Catholic with an edgy whiff of the narcissist. He has counted himself out if he is to be believed.
Against this wide field the Democrats have a field of one and she has yet to speak. This nomination is Hillary’s to loose but then in 2008 many wise saws saw the same thing and she lost. Mrs Clinton has all the virtues of being the obvious candidate but has yet to make the case for being the inevitable choice. Her ambition to be the first women president is undiminished but like Richard Nixon and Mitt Romney Mrs Clinton is uncomfortable in the eye of the TV camera. It is said in private she is witty and amusing. The same things were once said of Gordon Brown. In 2008 bill clinton proved to be a drag on her candidacy – perhaps this time he can offer her something she lacks – a warmth. Her daughter Chelsea will also add another dimension to her mother’s candidacy – not least the evergreen of all politicians in all times – the baby – but perhaps the greatest persuader will be none other than her sometime rival – President Obama.
The State of the Union address is historically the moment when Presidents rally the country to their party. Popular presidents can launch themselves into the political ground of their opponents. It shows how quickly things can change – just 10 weeks ago President Obama looked like a lame duck dead in the water. He was hopelessly unpopular. Since then his numbers have rallied dramatically. He has carefully crafted this speech to claim party credit for the uptick in the US economy. We are early is the days of political and economic recovery – but sometimes confidence is everything. Above all – he can now hold the Republican Congress to account for all the falings to come and the Republicans in the House look as if they might yet rise to the partisan occasion. There are those on Capitol Hill who would like to impeach Obama. There are those who say if the repeal bill for what is disparagingly called “Obama Care” is vetoed by the President – as it would be – it might give them the occasion to impeach. There are other cooler heads who say they will collapse the government by threatening to shut it down by refusing it supply.
Mrs Clinton will calculate her advantage in all this but one thing is certain – the Democrats may be down but they’re not yet out of the game in 2016. The blue map still holds and if Obama is as popular as Bill Clinton in 2000 – or even Ronald Reagan was in 1988 – then the Republicans might already be on the back foot in the 2016 election – that’s before they elect to shoot themselves in the other foot by doing something very stupid.
They forget at heir peril that the President had learned an awful lot about politics in Washington in his six years there….