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.


Bush vs. Clinton. Again.

Bush_Clinton_92I predict the 2016 US Presidential race will be Bush vs. Clinton.

I’m not the first to say this and I definitely won’t be the last. But there are good reasons to believe that the surnames printed on 2016 bumper stickers will match those from 1992.

Here are a few reasons why. First, Hillary.

Without even doing or saying anything related to the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton is already the run-away favourite to secure the Democratic nomination. Her record of public service and her public profile are unmatched by anyone else in the Party. Politco neatly summed up Hillary’s very impressive credentials like this:

A first lady-turned-senator-turned-presidential candidate-turned Secretary of State with 100-percent name ID and deep popularity who would, oh yes, make history as the nation’s first female president.

Jeb_Bush_Hillary_ClintonHillary was the first First Lady in history to have her own office in the West Wing of the White House, no doubt to signify that she is serious about policy. In the Senate she sat on several committees including the Armed Services Committee and her record is positive although, curiously, there are no substantive legislative achievements to her name.

As Secretary of State she has gained her praise from the likes of Google chairman Eric Schmidt who described her as “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson.

Her time at the State Dept. coincided with some major global achievements: the liberation of Libya, the death of Osama Bin Laden (who can forget that picture), the freeing of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, a diplomatic opening to Burma, and the isolation of Syrian President Assad.

There are, however, questions over the extent to which any of these can be chalked up as Clinton victories, rather than events that happened on her watch.

This is partly a result of her relationship with President Obama, as Stephen M Walt explains: “Clinton isn’t a great secretary of state because that is not the role that she’s been asked to play in this administration.”

While there is no doubting Hillary’s energy and activism as SoS, perhaps the recent New Yorker headline describes it best: “Hillary Was a Great Ambassador, Not a Great Secretary of State”.

What is clear is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a formidable candidate with a formidable record. Whoever runs against her in 2016 will need to be a seriously impressive republican with a first-class record.

Step forward Jeb Bush.

After losing in his first attempt at the Florida Governor’s mansion to incumbent Lawton Chiles, John Ellis Bush ran again four years later – and won – focussing on issues normally reserved for Democratic candidates. Jeb Bush was only the third Republican Governor in Florida’s history, and the only one to be re-elected.

Jeb Bush’s record as Governor includes some notable achievements – not to mention a departing favourability rating of over 60%, an achievement beyond many two-term governors who tend to leave office with declining ratings (it’s worth noting that Hillary also left the State Dept. with high favourability ratings).

On healthcare, Jeb Bush enacted Medicade reforms to give patients greater decision making powers by allowing them to choose the coverage that best meets their needs.

He has strong green credentials having succeeded in a project to restore America’s Everglades.

On the economy, Bush cut taxes every year he was in office, he reduced the number of government employees by over 14,000, he vetoed spending programmes, and he created the Centre for Efficient Government to improve government effectiveness.

On education – the area he says he is most proud of – Bush established the A+ Plan for Education, which increased accountability of schools and which in turn resulted in significant grade improvements among students, and he introduced a scholarship programme for low-income students.

Recently, former Chief of Staff to George W Bush, Andy Card expressed glowing support for Jeb Bush as President. This is significant because it suggests that there might be other senior republicans like Card who were loyal to George W Bush and who would also get behind Jeb.

Finally, one major feather in Jeb Bush’s cap is that he will do very well among Latino voters. He speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican American – Columba Bush – and is even considered by some as an Hispanic Republican!

So there you have it. My prediction. Bush vs. Clinton in 2016.

There are many reasons why this prediction may not come true, not least of which being that neither Jeb Bush nor Hillary Clinton have said that they will even run in 2016. Add to that the much talked about “Bush fatigue” on the one side and, on the other, the sense that Hillary has been here before, and you begin to see why Bush vs. Clinton in 2016 may not materialise.

But I hope it does. Both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton possess a rare quality: statesmanship. Today’s serious issues need to be met with serious solutions by serious politicians. No doubt the 2016 race will have its fair share of gimmicks, slogans, and mud-slinging (as all modern political campaigns do) but perhaps it will also be defined by the quality of debate between two statesmen. I hope so.