It is not only good weather that accompanies the arrival of spring. The next few weeks will no doubt mark the official opening of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Indeed, several hopefuls ought to officially announce their candidature shortly.
As we know, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution forbids the outgoing President Barack Obama from seeking a third term. Yet, if you believe the good many voices raised in the media during the last few months, the result is said already to be widely known in advance. It is thought that the Republicans will select Jeb Bush, son and brother of the last two presidents to have worn the party colors. As for the Democratic crown, that is thought to be reserved for Hillary Clinton, who is also seen as the favorite to win the presidential race. So, of the last nine presidential election campaigns, this will be the seventh where the name of at least one member of these two dynasties will appear on the ballot papers.
Hillary Clinton — More Vulnerable than She First Appears
However popular this prediction may currently be with a number of journalists and commentators, it betrays a superficial reading of the situation. First of all, no victory is “inevitable” more than a year before the election. Must people be reminded that at the same point in her first presidential campaign, eight years ago, Clinton was also widely presented as being invincible? Yet, her only electoral victory was a seat as senator for New York state, won in 2000 and retained in 2006, when she had a free run thanks to insignificant opponents. But New York is more Democratic than Texas is Republican. Would we have been as impressed with Laura Bush’s political prowess if she had won a seat there?
The only electoral race of Clinton’s career that has been the least bit difficult was the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. She lost. In addition to Barack Obama’s charisma, several factors contributed to her defeat, notably a dysfunctional campaign team, and a series of blunders, evasions and exaggerations on the part of the main protagonist herself. Unlike her husband, who was rightly considered the most gifted politician of his generation, she often shows a blatant lack of flair and political talent.
Even since the launch of her memoirs last summer, Clinton has committed a remarkable number of gaffes. Examples include her declaration that she and Bill were “dead broke” when they left the White House, her confusion when she was interviewed on same-sex marriage, and the recent revelation that she broke the rules regarding electronic communications when she was secretary of state. At the age of 67 and after two decades in Washington, she represents the status quo, whereas the electorate has a voracious appetite for change, and the disgust toward political elites is profound.
Jeb Bush — a Dubious Alternative
Paradoxically, Jeb Bush proves to be an exceptionally poorly placed candidate to exploit these weaknesses in a general election. First, and most crucially, he will give the Democrats the opportunity to turn the next election into a referendum on the last Bush and Clinton presidencies — a contrast which is surely not to the advantage of the Grand Old Party. While Bill Clinton left power with an approval rating close to 60 percent, George W. Bush reached a level of unpopularity that had never been seen for any American president since the resignation of Richard Nixon, leaving the country in the middle of two wars and a worldwide economic and financial crisis. According to a study undertaken in January by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Jeb Bush may well begin his campaign facing a pronounced resistance in the electorate to the idea of seeing a member of his family run the country for the third time in a quarter of a century.
In his 60s, like Clinton, his first public speeches as a prospective candidate have been, to say the least, underwhelming. While he must carry the burden of his elder brother’s poor track record, it must be noted that, thus far, he has lacked the latter’s energy as a candidate. The lack of inspiration generated by Bush may become particularly evident when it comes to the Republican primaries. Although Mitt Romney, despite the lack of enthusiasm toward him, emerged from primaries that were characterized by a cruel lack of sound candidates in 2012, Jeb Bush will not have the right to the same luxury in 2016. This time, the Republican electorate may have a credible alternative — if not several — to the favorite of the party elite.
The United States was born of a violent and passionate rupture with the monarchy. Two centuries later, it has not become one. If Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush want to occupy the Oval Office, they must deserve it. It is still far from certain, and the journey looks like it will be a long one. Let the race begin.