A day after Democrat Hillary Clinton announced her bid on April 12 for the U.S. presidential elections, Republican hopeful Marco Rubio did the same. By the end of the week, 19 Republicans—most still undeclared as candidates—had descended on New Hampshire to present themselves to the state’s Republican Party members and activists, to appraise each other, and test lines of attack against Clinton. The extent to which she already dominates the 2016 Presidential election and preoccupies the Republicans was reflected in party activists handing out stickers calling on the faithful to “Stop Hillary”.
Since Clinton is the front runner among Democrats, her previous position as secretary of state in the Barack Obama administration from 2009 to 2012 helps explain why, unlike the usual preoccupation with the economy, most of the barbs aimed at her at the New Hampshire Republican gathering on April 17-18 focused on foreign policy issues. Additionally, the Clinton family philanthropic foundation has, over the years, received donations from numerous foreign governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals. That has already become a national, not just Republican, issue with recent disclosures in the New York Times of contributions from Canadian businessmen engaged in selling their U.S.-based uranium assets to Russian state-owned Rosatom while simultaneously channeling contributions to the Clinton Foundation.
Although the election is a year-and-a-half away, among the slew of Republicans throwing their hats in the ring, although undeclared yet, is Jeb Bush—the former two-time governor of Florida, son of former president George H.W. Bush, and brother of former president George W. Bush. He is still the most credible candidate, with a rating of 15.4% (according to the Real Clear Politics website). This makes Bush the other half of an “American Nightmare” in which the Bush and Clinton dynasties have confronted each other in a seemingly endless sequence—there has been a Bush or a Clinton in seven of the last 10 presidential elections.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the present Bush is trying to separate himself from the relative success of his father’s foreign policy, as well as his brother’s catastrophic blunders in Iraq. He is trying to project his generally admired record during his tenure as governor in Florida, when he claims to have increased graduation rates and generated jobs. He is attracting support from the U.S.’s large Hispanic community, through his Mexican-origin wife, Columba and his own Spanish language skills. He supports immigration reform and rapprochement with Cuba—both issues of interest to the Hispanic community.
However, breathing down his neck among Republicans this early in the race is the less well-known governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker (13.6%). He endeared himself to the Republicans (and Tea Party alike) by passing legislation to curtail the rights of trade unions to mobilise for better working conditions in 2011. He then went on to win a recall election backed by the trade unions and was re-elected as governor the following year, in 2012.
Other candidates with a national profile include Senator Marco Rubio (10.6%) from Florida, who is of Cuban parentage and, at the age of only 43, is presenting himself as the symbol of a changing America. His platform includes job creation and restructuring college education, but he is stridently opposed to President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.
Another presidential aspirant—who has already declared his candidacy—with Hispanic ancestors is the fiscally and socially conservative Texan senator Ted Cruz, who trails Bush, Walker, and Rubio with a rating of 10.4%.
Among the “crazies” are the former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee (7.8%)—a firm favourite of the Christian Right, and Ambassador John Bolton (>1%). As Bush Jr’s ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006, Bolton spent most of his time and energy trying to destroy the institution because on rare occasions the UN did not jump fast enough to do the bidding of the U.S. in the lead up to the second Iraq war. Bolton would also rather bomb, than negotiate with Iran.
Of special interest to Indians is the possible candidacy of Piyush “Bobby” Jindal (1.3%), who was briefly considered as a possible running mate for Senator John McCain in the 2008 election. Although Jindal is vocally dismissive of his Indian ancestry, saying that his parents came to America “to be Americans, not Indian-Americans” he was not above raising money from the Indian community for his re- election campaign as governor of Louisiana in 2011. Jindal would normally be the candidate most beloved by the Tea Party for his extreme social conservatism and militant Christianity. But his racial origins could be an obstacle, since the Christian Right is still very much home to ageing and frightened white men.
Nevertheless, Jindal, credited with running Louisiana efficiently, has placed himself firmly on the most obscurantist end of the spectrum on social issues, including those concerning equal rights, such as marriage, for the gay and lesbian community—rights supported by 75% percent of Americans and 379 American corporations, including some as big as Apple, GE, and Walmart.
To everyone’s relief, among the perennial Republican candidates that have declared they are not in the race, are Senator John McCain and 2012 election loser Mitt Romney. In the Democrat camp, Obama’s vice president and Democratic perennial, Joe Biden, has sadly yet to rule himself out.
It is early in the great American election tamasha. The primaries are nearly a year away, but the opening acts have begun. So far, however, genuinely important issues like the growing rivalry with China, plurilateral trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are yet to feature on the agenda.
Discussions on these topics will need to start soon, because the whole world has an interest in who falls, who rises, and who is left standing once the ballots have all been counted—and who is to be declared the new American president in November 2016.
Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.
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