Before long, we will have our presidential nominees. With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look from the top of the year at how the race might shape out.
The presidential primaries kick off from February 1st. That’s when Iowa, the first state in the union, will essentially declare via their ‘caucus’ system, which Republican and Democrat candidates the state of Iowa supports. At the moment polls show that Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are most likely to take Iowa.
Iowa is then followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, before ‘Super Tuesday’ in early March sees around 14 of the remaining 46 states declare.
The process runs until June, but the Democratic and Republican winner may become clear far earlier. Special emphasis is placed on these first four states: if a candidate does well in those states they will stay in the media spotlight and have better chances to continue fundraising. After all, without funds, a campaign hits the rocks quickly.
Hillary Looks Unstoppable
Barring some catastrophic revelation or blunder, Hillary Clinton looks to have the nomination of the Democratic Party sewn up.
Clinton has not faced significant opposition for most of the campaign. Bernie Sanders’ anti-billionaire class rhetoric galvanised voters late last summer, but he has been unable to maintain that momentum in polls around the country.
Not to mention the fact that a renewed focus on national security since the Paris attacks has seriously damaged his appeal as he is not perceived to be strong on defence or foreign policy.
Martin O’Malley, on the other hand, is surprising simply in that he is still running. During debates the former Governor of Maryland has been chippy when criticising Hillary, but this has not translated into boosts in his polls numbers. His campaign has been on life support for months now.
This leaves Hillary Clinton with a clear pathway to the nomination. Added to which, her husband has taken to the campaign trail; Bill Clinton remains a very popular and powerful force in Democratic politics.
All in all, Hillary looks to have a very successful primary ahead of her.
Trump Can Win The Nomination
Despite pundits and sceptics arguing from the very beginning that Trump would fizzle out, that his offensive comments would alienate voters, that he would get bored of the financial costs, that Republicans would realise they need a unifying figure to take on the Democrats, the business mogul is poised to take the nomination.
He leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and national polls have him with a wide lead of other candidates. Polls aren’t perfect, but it would be foolish to ignore them at this point given his substantial leads.
The good news from a Democratic point of view is that even if Trump does win the nomination, all available information currently suggests that he would stand virtually no chance against Hillary in the general. Trump cannot win over hispanics or African Americans in big enough numbers, and his rhetoric splits the Republican party itself.
There is still a small chance that even if Trump does win the nomination, a disgruntled moderate (John Kasich, I’m looking at you) could torpedo his candidacy by launching a third party campaign and bringing Republican establishment and moderate conservatives on board.
Someone like Kasich, proud of his record of bipartisanship, might prefer to see Clinton in the Oval Office, rather than Trump.
National Security Above All Else
The international attacks of Daesh, or ISIS, shook politics in many Western democracies. In America, this has not only lifted national security to perhaps the number one issue for the election, but also suffocated other issues of valuable air time.
In particular, criminal justice reform has found far less space within these debates and campaigns. Despite the pressure of the Black Lives Matter movement and the seemingly clockwork release of video evidence showing police brutality, fixing criminal justice has slipped far down the ranks of issue priority for this election.
With Americans feeling insecure given the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, candidates must appear tough on foreign policy. Failure to do so has already scuppered the chances of Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders.
Immigration is a Toxic Issue for Republicans
Immigration reform was once a bipartisan cause. Back in 2013, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together to address the failures of the current system, but never managed to pass significant legislation.
Today immigration is a wedge issue between the parties. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have dragged the Republican moderates (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie) away from their positions, and the whole party into the muck of jingoism and border walls.
Even if Marco Rubio, who was actively involved in the bipartisan 2013 efforts, was nominated, he would be hamstrung on immigration. After the party has shifted so far to the right on the issue the Senator from Florida would be bound to stay on course with a firm, anti immigration position.
Gun Control Won’t Be A Big Issue
The renewed attention paid to gun control in the wake of multiple shootings across America is unlikely to filter into the political debates of 2016.
The topic does not arise among Republicans, as there is a consensus to oppose Obama’s measures, and among Democrats the issue is a relatively minor point of disagreement between Sanders and Clinton. Sanders, Senator of Vermont, is a state where hunting is very popular, and so has not been as strong a proponent of gun control as Clinton.
Once we have our nominees it’s unlikely that gun control will play a major part in the presidential debates. Unfortunately, there are no indications that gun control is a vote winner for Americans who are undecided, and it would pose a potentially reckless risk for a Democratic run at the White House that looks very promising.
Once in power the Clinton could take action, but at this point pushing the issue does not seem to be on the agenda.
Who Can Beat Trump?
It’s 2016 and there are twelve remaining nominees for the Republican nominee. So who in this crowded field could knock off Trump?
Two names spring to mind.
Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas, has quietly been flying in the slipstream of Trump. He’s very conservative on immigration and social issues, and outspokenly hawkish; he wants to bomb Iraq and Syria so much they can see if ‘sand glows in the dark‘.
Cruz has been steadily weaning away support from Trump, to the extent that the Texan firebrand now has a lead in Iowa. Cruz’s strategy appears to be based on the logic that voters who currently back Trump will err towards someone experienced with D.C. at the end of the day, and he is positioning himself as the rational alternative to Trump’s antics, while also vaunting his anti-establishment image.
The other option is Marco Rubio. Rubio, the young hispanic Senator from Florida, is the most dangerous opponent for the Democrats.
Rubio could deliver Florida, a crucial swing state, and chip into the Democrat’s hispanic support base. Trump, on the other hand, probably pushes hispanics even further from the Republican Party.
The problem with Rubio is that he’s sitting at third in most polls, behind Cruz and Trump. At this point, the Republican field is begging to be thinned out, so the voters can get a real feeling for who will really be in the running.
Once John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Rand Paul drop out – though Christie and Bush probably will last into March at least – their supporters may coalesce around Marco Rubio, the moderate alternative to the Trump-Cruz bandwagon.
Moderate Republicans are split between too many candidates to mount a serious challenge to Trump. Rubio is probably their best shot to win, both for the primaries and the general election.
Barring some unforeseen developments, it’s up to either Cruz or Rubio to take down Trump.
What Happens to Congress
While Hillary may look to be set for good fortunes in 2016, winning the White House is only half the battle for the Democrats. Winning back Congress is a tougher challenge.
After all, as America chooses its next President, voters will also be electing their congressional Representatives and a third of the Senate.
The Republicans currently have majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This has meant prolonged government gridlock, the threat of shutdowns, and inability to make progress of legislative battles like immigration.
If Hillary can win back at least one of the houses, the prospects for her potential presidency would be vastly improved. Fortunately for the Democrats, evidence suggests that a successful presidential campaign can produce a complimentary surge at a state level: often a popular candidate for President will encourage voters to vote for the same party for Congress.
If Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 but cannot retake at least the Senate, we can expect further D.C. gridlock and conflict.