Which Republican Will Take On This Woman?

It is not just Hilary Clinton who is worrying the American conservatives as an opponent, it is also the fact that her remedies are not enough to allay the fears of the middle class.

Mitt Romney’s surprise withdrawal from the list of presidential candidates has reshuffled the cards among Republicans. Previously it looked like it would come down to a competition between him and Jeb Bush, two party heavyweights considered representatives of the party establishment who could have drawn the votes of moderate voters.

Bush can now be considered the favorite, even if it is far from certain whether he will win in the primaries. The battle between him and Chris Christie — the governor of New Jersey who is also on the spectrum of moderates — to get Romney’s donors and fundraisers on their side has already begun.

The phones of the other candidates are red hot at the moment to sign up as many supporters as possible. The emerging competition between Bush and Romney had led many Republican sympathizers to wait before committing to a candidate. Following Romney’s departure, the situation has become fluid, and the election in the Republican camp has begun in earnest.

In fact, the field of Republican candidates hasn’t been this strong in decades. Now it will come down to a generational battle. Romney withdrew explicitly to make room for a younger, previously unknown candidate.

Dynasty Against Dynasty

Jeb Bush will have to fight off the accusation that he belongs to the old guard. This is especially true as he will hardly be able to argue in the fight against Hillary Clinton, the probable Democratic candidate, that she is a politician from yesterday when he himself can no longer be considered a spring chicken and both he and Clinton have the un-Republican whiff of an aristocratic dynasty about them. Alongside Christie, people such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio are the young hopes.

But whoever ends up running will first and foremost have to present a convincing message in order to survive alongside Clinton. The Democrats, it seems, have already found their issue: the economically stagnant middle class and a tarnished American dream, which no longer offers many people a fair chance to move up in the world or paves the way for their children to have a better life. That was the topic of Barack Obama’s State of the Union address more than ten days ago, which has since been carried further by him and by Clinton and the large choir of Democrats.

The economic and social policies that President Obama set out in his speech are generally termed “economic populism” in the United States. In essence, the president wants to apply higher taxes to banks and the rich in order to finance state benefits for the middle and working classes, from free college education to state-financed maternity leave, continued payment in the case of illness and better childcare.

For Republicans who believe in a small state, and the idea that people should decide themselves how best to use their income, not the government, this is a red rag to a bull. But it puts them on the defensive. There is little that worries Americans as much as the fact that middle class incomes in the U.S. have been stagnating for the past 20 years, and even after two years of economic growth, there is hardly any increase in wages. So far, only the rich have profited from the economic recovery.

The Liberal Mantra Isn’t Enough Anymore

It is a classic issue of the left, to which Obama has given a classic left-wing answer of redistribution. But at least he has an argument, while Republicans still do not know how they should deal with an issue which is fairly certain to be central to the upcoming presidential campaign.

Their liberal mantra up to now had been that what helps the economy will benefit the masses in the end. But since the end of the 1990s, this “transmission belt” no longer seems to be working. Economic liberals thus have some explaining to do. And Republicans must be careful that they are not labeled as only doing politics for the top 10,000.

At least they don’t want to ignore the problem any longer. Two years ago, for example, presidential candidate Romney was secretly filmed and criticized for talking about the “47 percent” in the U.S. who profited from money from the government. Before his withdrawal he had stated that he wanted to take on the “scourge of poverty” if he ever stood again as a candidate.

The sarcastic reactions to this were one of the reasons for Romney’s withdrawal. He had to recognize that his background would be too great a burden to convincingly champion the interests of the common man.

The U.S. Is Less Porous than Europe

Jeb Bush gave the name “right to rise” to the campaign backing his candidacy, thereby identifying the problem: the U.S. has actually become less porous than some European countries in the meantime. But whether this can really be explained by the U.S. having a less developed welfare state than Europe, as Obama’s program suggests, is questionable.

In reality, the country that sees itself as a stronghold of individual responsibility has also taken a good swig from the welfare state bottle in the recent decades. While in 1963, a quarter of government spending went to welfare programs, this figure was three-fifths in 2012.

According to data from the Census Bureau, in 2012 it was not 47 percent, as Romney said, but 49 percent of U.S. households which profited from government money. The U.S. is therefore no longer as “exceptional” as the myth would have it. And further expansion of the welfare state like in Europe seems, given the European results, like a much less dynamic economy than the U.S., hardly a suitable way of creating a more prosperous society.

The Republicans therefore have to try to square the circle. They have to point out economically liberal ways out of the middle class misery without being considered cold-hearted and lobbyists for the rich. This is no easy task. The battle for ideas has begun.

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