Hillary vs…?

Hillary2016Which two movies provide the best insight into how the coming US Presidential Election will play out? This was the question posed by Jacob Heilbrunn, Editor of The National Interest, at a recent Legatum Institute discussion.

Political movie fans might suggest Primary Colours, the anonymously authored account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush. Or perhaps The Ides of March (2011), the tense political thriller which sees an idealistic Ryan Gosling get caught up in the dirty side of politics while working for a presidential candidate played by George Clooney. But Heilbrunn offered neither of these.

Instead, Heilbrunn cited Election (1999), the little-known indie movie that sees a tenacious and devious Reese Witherspoon running unopposed for school president, stopping at nothing to get what she wants. This, said Heilbrunn, provides insight into what Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency might look like.

The second movie, for Heilbrunn, is the recent Kingsman (2014) in which an elite spy agency recruits a young, unrefined, untested street kid into their training programme (think James Bond mixed with Johnny English). The agency mirrors the GOP while the established central character (Colin Firth) represents Jeb Bush—the safe and obvious choice. The young, untested recruit could be any number of Republican candidates including the like of Ted Cruz, the maverick libertarian Senator from Texas who, among other things, wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and introduce a flat tax rate.

Following Hillary’s official announcement earlier this month, it would seem inevitable that she will secure the Democratic nomination, potentially unopposed (very few Democrats will want to stand in front of the Clinton juggernaut). When it comes to predicting who will secure the Republican nomination the smart money is on Jeb Bush. Bush has huge fundraising capability combined with a formidable infrastructure of advisors, supporters, and donors—the Bush ‘machine’ is perhaps only rivalled by the organisational infrastructure of the Clintons, which makes for a potentially fascinating showdown, one which will be very well-funded on both sides.

But is Jeb Bush a shoe-in? Not necessarily, says Heilbrunn. Another likely option is Scott Walker, the current Governor of Wisconsin. Walker is most well-known for facing-down the labour unions in his state and for surviving a recall vote in June 2012, only the third vote of its kind in US history.

Another reason why Bush is not a certainty comes down to a complexity of the US Presidential election process in which would-be candidates have to appeal to two separate groups of voters.

On the one hand there is the party “base” (what in the UK we’d refer to as the grass-roots). The Republican base tends to be very socially conservative and more activist in its approach and holds a lot of power when it comes to selecting the party’s nominee. “The lunatics aren’t quite running the asylum but they are very close to the keys”, explained Heilbrunn.

Then there is the national electorate who are less conservative and more populist in nature. This presents a conundrum for GOP candidates who, if they want to secure their party’s nomination, need to present themselves as ultra conservative in order to win the base, only to row-back to the centre ground thereafter. This is a problem that former Republican nominee Mitt Romney knows well after struggling to convey authenticity on several high-profile policy issues during his own campaign.

The same problem exists for Jeb Bush. He advocates policies which don’t sit comfortably with the base of his party, most notably in education where Bush advocates Common Core—the introduction of national academic standards which requires an active role for the state in education—and on immigration where Bush wants to offer immigrants a path to legal status if they “work … don’t break the law, learn English, and contribute to society”. In light of this, Heilbrunn was asked how he thinks Bush is planning to win over the base of the party with policies like these tied around his neck? Simply put, he’s not, was Heilrunn’s surprising answer: “Bush’s aim is to survive the primaries…mauled.” And this certainly reflects reality given how Bush is showing no sign of amending his positions on some of these more unpopular issues.

Back to Hillary. Heilbrunn discussed how a Hillary Clinton Administration may differ from the Obama Administration in which she served for five years, as well as how much she would differ from the man who sat in the Oval Office between 1993-2001 (with whom she shares a surname). Heilbrunn offered a suggestion of a divide within the Democratic Party with those who favour a return to the ideals of the first Clinton Administration marked by a robust foreign policy, traditional social values and, of course, a strong economy. This group stands in contrast to those Democrats who are generally more socially liberal; favour a reduced role for the US abroad in terms of foreign policy, and who played such a vital role in electing Barack Obama in 2008.

One of the most intriguing questions about a Hillary presidency is what role Bill Clinton would play in her administration in his capacity as First Man (or is it First Gentleman…or perhaps just Mr President…?) To this, Heilbrunn offers a tongue-in-cheek response: if Hillary becomes president, one thing will certainly be true: “Bill will have a greater role than her staff would like”.

This article first appeared here.


What the Electorate Really Wants

Cam-MiliThe Conservatives and Labour are fighting polar opposite campaigns. In the blue corner, the focus is on the strength of the economy. The red corner has prioritised the importance of the NHS. One common theme unites both parties: both David Cameron and Ed Miliband want to be placed in charge of Britain’s future prosperity.

Yet, however hard they try, neither side can break the deadlock as poll after poll shows the two parties neck and neck in the race to Downing Street.

Mark Twain once said that history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes. This is certainly true of election campaigns. It’s “the economy, stupid” is the infamous phrase issued by Bill Clinton’s chief strategist, James Carville, during Clinton’s successful 1992 Presidential campaign. And this mantra seems to have been adopted by Tory strategists who are hoping that the economy will be the issue that convinces voters to back David Cameron on 7th May.

Labour, on the other hand is pinning its hopes on the health service. The NHS is a national icon and is – if you believe the polls – the single most important issue on the doorstep. By committing to increase the number of nurses and decrease GP waiting times, Labour is hoping this will be the issue that convinces voters to back Ed Miliband.

Without doubt, a flourishing economy which leads to more jobs and higher wages is a key part to the future prosperity of the country. The state of our healthcare system is also extremely important. But part of the problem for Cameron and Miliband is that neither leader has quite understood what prosperity means to people.

That is why the Legatum Institute asked leading pollsters YouGov to ask the public what prosperity means to them. The results that are published today are startling and could go some way in explaining why neither of the main political parties will be able to win a majority in two weeks.

Firstly, it is clear that the British public do not think economic growth is the be all and end all to a prosperous nation. Nearly half of people questioned (forty-five per cent) think public safety is more important than GDP. Only eight per cent of people – and remember this is a poll of 2,000 people of different ages, income groups, and voting intentions – think a stronger economy is more important than feeling safe. Yet crime, personal safety and security have barely featured in this election campaign.

The same is true of education. Forty-one per cent of voters think that a good quality education system is more important than economic growth in determining the UK’s future prosperity. Interestingly, there is a big gap here between the views of Conservative and Labour voters. Only a quarter of Conservative voters say that the quality of the education system is more important than economic growth, compared to fifty-five per cent of Labour voters.

The poll also found that fifty-one per cent of people thought the ability to start your own business was more important to the prosperity of the nation than economic growth. The numbers rose to fifty-seven per cent when you look at how would-be Conservatives answered the question. There is little doubt that the Conservatives have made a lot of noise when it comes to their record on job creation – two million new private sector jobs is a fantastic achievement – but the public want to know how a future government will enable people across the country to become their own bosses.  The long term economic plan aside, we haven’t heard a huge amount of detail when it comes to encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs.

The results of the Legatum Institute survey should provide food for thought to all of the main parties in this election. Voters of all stripes want to hear about more than the economy. They want a positive vision of how schools and hospitals will help shape our country’s future prosperity. They want a government that will prioritise public safety and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs.

With most opinion polls showing a deadlock between Labour and Conservative and with only two weeks to go until the nation votes, time is running out for either of the major parties to distinguish itself from the other. Maybe, just maybe, a change of tactic is required – one that takes account of how the electorate defines prosperity. This could determine whether it’s Cameron or Miliband who is given the keys to Number 10 on the morning of 8th May.

This article first appeared here.