Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or neither?
The race for the White House is already in full flight, with 16 Republicans seeking to run. But can any of them win?
Ahead of the field: Donald Trump in Texas on Thursday. He said he’s confident of winning the Hispanic vote. Photograph: Matthew Busch/Getty
Running for president: Jeb Bush. Photograph: Gretchen Ertl/Reuters
Hopeful: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Photograph: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty
New to the race: Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, who is casting himself as a political outsider. Photograph: David Becker/Reuters
On Tuesday the Republican senator Lindsey Graham, one of 16 candidates seeking his party’s presidential nomination in the 2016 US elections, appeared in an online video called How to Destroy Your Cell Phone.
The minute-long film shows the three-term South Carolina senator, accompanied by Vivaldi, destroying a black mobile phone with a meat cleaver, a golf club, a sword and various other instruments.
“Or, if all else fails, you can always give your number to the Donald,” Graham says at the end, adding, “This is for all the veterans,” as he throws the phone off-camera, where it smashes in the distance.
Graham and the property tycoon Donald Trump, the brashest candidate and frontrunner in a wide field of Republican candidates in the next presidential race, went at it hammer and tongs this week.
A month after accusing Mexican immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists in his campaign announcement, Trump stirred the controversy pot again last weekend by saying that the former Republican presidential nominee and tortured Vietnam War veteran John McCain, a close friend of Graham, was not a war hero. But he spent “five and half years in a Vietnamese prison camp”, the political strategist Frank Luntz, who was on stage with him, protested.
“He’s a ‘war hero’ because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured,” Trump told the Republican gathering in Iowa, a state that on February 1st will be the first in the US to nominate presidential candidates, marking the official start of the 2016 elections.
On Monday Graham called the billionaire businessman a jackass. The following day Trump called Graham an idiot at a rally in the senator’s home state and gave his mobile number to the crowd. That prompted Graham’s phone-destroying video retort.
Welcome to the Republican presidential primary.
The race to pick a candidate to run against the Democrat nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton, is in full flight 191 days from the first nominating contest and 471 days from the presidential ballot.
The number of major candidates is the largest in living memory, and the attendant pantomime has raised questions about the party’s prospects of preventing the Democrats from winning a third consecutive term.
So who are the Republican candidates?
Four sitting governors Chris Christie, of New Jersey; Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana; John Kasich, of Ohio; and Scott Walker, of Wisconsin. Four former governors Jeb Bush, of Florida; Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas; George Pataki, of New York; and Rick Perry, of Texas. Four sitting senators Ted Cruz, of Texas; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; Rand Paul, of Kentucky; and Marco Rubio, of Florida. One former senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania. And three others The retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; the businesswoman Carly Fiorina; and the businessman Donald Trump.
Chris Christie, a 52-year-old New Jersey lawyer, was seen as a leading contender because of his two-term record as governor in a Democratic-leaning state. But his prospects suffered a setback when his aides were implicated in lane closures to a bridge to hurt a political rival in a New Jersey town. Christie’s abrasive manner is another handicap.
Bobby Jindal, at 44 the youngest candidate, is the Oxford-educated son of Indian immigrants. In an appeal to conservative voters he has taken tough lines on gay rights and Islamic extremism.
John Kasich, the newest participant, declared his candidacy on Tuesday, in a meandering 45-minute speech to 4,000 supporters at Ohio State University. The 63-year-old has pitched his candidacy as left-leaning, presenting his campaign at the far end of the empathy dial from Trump’s noisier, hardline positions.
Scott Walker is casting himself as an outsider to the political establishment who is willing to take on tough fights. The 47-year-old has pointed to his record of battling unions, slashing public spending and lowering taxes, a position that appeals to the anti-big-government Republican establishment and the Tea Party, on the Republicans’ right flank.
Jeb Bush For many the brother to one former president and son to another was the presumptive Republican nominee, given his dynastic pedigree, but the 62-year-old has stumbled on questions about his brother’s war record in Iraq. Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, he holds moderate positions on immigration and education that will alienate him from conservatives and could hurt him in the Republican primary race.
An ordained Southern Baptist minister and social conservative, Mike Huckabee has labelled Beyoncé’s music “mental poison”. This is the 59-year-old’s second presidential run.
George Pataki, a three-term governor of New York, is, at 70, the oldest candidate in the field – and a rare moderate in the Republican field.
Rick Perry, who was governor of Texas from 2000 to 2015, saw his presidential bid crumble last time around, with the “oops” moment when, during a presidential debate, he couldn’t remember all three government agencies he would abolish. The 65-year-old is the only indicted candidate: he was charged with state corruption offences in 2014.
Ted Cruz, who born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father, shot to fame in 2013, quoting Dr Seuss and Star Wars during a 21-hour filibuster against President Obama’s healthcare act. A conservative firebrand, the 44-year-old is the favourite of the Tea Party.
Lindsey Graham, a 60-year-old foreign-policy hawk, is running on a vociferous critique of President Obama’s policy in the Middle East.
Rand Paul, a 52-year-old opthalmologist, is a libertarian who has railed against the US surveillance programme exposed by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden; he is also an isolationist on foreign policy.
Like Cruz and Paul, Marco Rubio, the 44-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, is a freshman senator. A fiscal and social conservative who was once a protege of Jeb Bush, he supported a cross-party immigration-reform bill that he later disowned, after the party’s right flank rejected the legislation. Playing up his youthfulness, he is selling himself as a candidate for the 21st century.
The former senator
Rick Santorum, a Christian conservative opposed to gay marriage and abortion, is running for president for a second time. The 57-year-old won in Iowa in 2012 but lost the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney, who was in turn beaten by Barack Obama.
Ben Carson, an author and retired neurosurgeon, is the only African-American candidate. The 63-year-old shot to fame with a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 that embarrassed Obama, who was sitting on the same dais as Carson, and electrified conservatives.
Carly Fiorina, the only female candidate in the Republican field, advised McCain in his 2008 campaign, which he lost to Obama, and made a failed attempt to win a Senate seat in California in 2010. The 60-year-old’s presidential bid is seen as positioning her as a vice-presidential candidate, particularly if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee.
Donald Trump contemplated a presidential run in 2012 but decided against it, concentrating instead on his lucrative property and TV empire. The 69-year-old is the richest of the 16 candidates, showing assets of at least $1.4 billion in a financial disclosure released on Wednesday.
Why are there so many candidates?
The number reflects the make-up of the Republican Party, the opposing internal constituent forces at play and the fact that there is no clear heir apparent. The ease with which big donors can now fund campaigns has also helped; the US supreme-court ruling in the Citizens United case, in 2010, removed a limit of $2,700 on an individual’s direct donation to a candidate. One rich donor can now back a single candidate and keep him or her in the race until well into the primary ballots.
The Grand Old Party is now split in three: moderate voters, voters who consider themselves somewhat conservative, and voters who see themselves as very conservative. Delving deeper, the party breaks down into five “lanes”: religious voters; voters from the anti-government Tea Party movement that emerged in 2010; very conservative voters; moderate or establishment voters; and libertarians.
The primary race right now is not so much a battle to win over all Republican supporters who pick the candidates but races to win in the various lanes, beating like-minded candidates, before trying to broaden their appeal to win over voters in some of the other lanes.
Rural Iowa, home to cattle-loving, barbecue-grilling conservatives, and libertarian New Hampshire – “Live Free or Die!” is the New England state’s motto – hold an outsized influence in the presidential cycle as the first two nominating states, so candidates initially play more heavily to those constituents, hoping to gain an early advantage.
Others put the large field down to bigger changes beyond the party’s recent splintering. “It reflects what’s going on in American society,” says John Feehery, a Republican strategist. “Leaders are not held in high regard. This is kind of the ‘selfie’ generation. Everyone is out for themselves and believes that they have as good a shot at being president as anybody.”
So who’s in the lead?
Trump, the former host of the US reality television show
The Apprentice, surged ahead this week. A Washington Post-ABC News poll on Monday showed him with almost twice the support of his nearest rival. His controversial remarks about Mexicans and his mauling of McCain appear to have won him nothing but support.
The property magnate polled at 24 per cent among registered Republican and Republican-leaning swing voters, recording the biggest lead and highest support by any of the party’s candidates this year.
Walker, the 15th candidate into the race, 12 days ago, polled second, with 13 per cent, followed by Bush, with 12 per cent.
Walker, seen as a dark horse, posted the strongest support among voters describing themselves as very conservative.
Kasich, although way back in the field, is seen by some as one of the quieter ones to watch. He is governor of a crucial swing state and worked with President Bill Clinton to balance the federal budget when he was in Congress, where he represented Ohio for 18 years.
Why is Trump doing so well?
Self-funded from his multibillion-dollar fortune, and therefore untethered from donors, Trump has launched a barrage of attacks on his rivals. He has called Bush weak on immigration and even mocked Perry’s black-rimmed glasses, saying he should have an IQ test before getting up on a debate stage.
This week, despite his incendiary remarks about immigrants, Trump, with characteristic bravado, declared on a visit to the Mexican border on Thursday that he still had the support of Latino voters. “I think I’ll win the Hispanic vote,” he said in Laredo, Texas, covering his trademark comb-over with a cap that read “Make America Great Again”. The businessman has said that as president he would build a wall along the border to keep illegal immigrants out of the US – and that he will force Mexico to pay for it.
His anti-establishment rhetoric has won him support among the Tea Party, on the right of the party. It has also distanced him from the Republican National Committee, which has pleaded with him to tone down the incendiary comments that have alienated a key constituency. “He is sucking all the air out of everything,” said one Capitol Hill Republican. “It’s crazy, because he is not going to be there at the end.”
Trump has not helped the Republicans to improve their political brand among minority groups whose support they need to retake the White House. The flying insults have turned the campaign into an attack-your-opponent-fest rather than a discussion about the issues of the day.
It would be worse were Trump to decide, like Ross Perot in 1992, to run as a third-party independent candidate. This would be a nightmare for the party, drawing vital support away from its nominee.
Trump told the Hill political newspaper that the chances of him taking a third-party White House bid would “absolutely” increase if the Republican National Committee were unfair to him in the primary race.
Trump’s grenade-lobbing has also overshadowed the lower-tier contenders, who must poll within the top 10 if they are to make the crucial first debate on Fox News, on August 6th in Cleveland, Ohio. Based on the average of polls now, Kasich, Perry, Fiorina, Santorum, Jindal and Graham face missing the cut.
“Trump is making it very difficult for the entire field,” says the Republican pollster David Winston, who worked on the 2012 campaign of the former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich.
Winston says that appearing in the first debate is critical, as it is the first time the Republican electorate will be able to make a choice. “If you are not on that stage it is a serious problem.”
Who would gain if Trump were to lob one grenade too many?
Ted Cruz has refused to criticise Trump, positioning himself to take his rival’s 24 per cent support should the businessman take too big a misstep.
Bush leads in the fundraising stakes by some distance. During the first half of the year he generated $114 million (€ 104 million) – $760,000 a day – including $98 million through his “super Pacs”, the political action committees that can raise unlimited funds.
Second behind Bush was, surprisingly, Cruz, who raised $51 million – or $142,000 a day – including $37 million from super Pacs.
Bush’s money is likely to keep him in the race well beyond the Iowa caucus, while Cruz could soar in the polls if Trump stumbles.
Likewise, Rand Paul’s libertarian appeal could benefit the Kentucky senator if Trump were to drop out. But the Republican establishment sees Cruz and Paul as unelectable against, say, Clinton, even though they have much support in the party.
Rubio could appeal as the establishment alternative to Bush, as could Walker, who has crossover appeal among conservatives.
In the six months to Iowa the party needs to weed out weaker candidates. Otherwise its eventual nominee could be weakened before the big battle against the Democrat.
“Iowa is there to separate the contenders from the pretenders and an opportunity to winnow the field,” says Timothy Hagle, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa. “With so many candidates it is going to be hard to separate them.”
Can any of them beat Hillary Clinton?
Possibly. This week a poll by Quinnipiac University, in Connecticut, which regularly tracks the popularity of politicians, found Clinton lagging Bush, Rubio and Walker in head-to-head races in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, three swing states, by up to a nine-point margin. Her favourability ratings have been falling since the last poll, in April, and more voters have been questioning her leadership skills.
National polls have Clinton leading Bush by six points, Rubio by seven and Walker by 10, according to an average of polls tracked by the RealClearPolitics website.