US presidential election: Clintons and Bushes prepare to do battle

Jeb has some business to attend to first with ‘the rest of the Republicans’


And so, with Bush and Clinton dynasties now formally with a horse in the race, it might be tempting to see the emerging 2016 presidential election – 16 months to go – as simply a rerun of 1992. Not yet, however. Jeb Bush, in particular, has a mountain to climb to ensure his party nomination, and, even with it, currently stands 52 points in the polls behind Democratic rival Hilary Clinton.

In reality the race now is two quite distinct simultaneous races, with different dynamics and issues – Clinton v the Republicans, and Bush v The Rest of the Republicans . For Clinton the presidential flat race is up and running. For Bush the steeplechase that is the primaries has got to be hurdled safely yet. And, as the contest has proved, champion hurdlers may find the flat hard going .

Although Clinton is not certain of the Democratic nomination, she leads her party rivals – socialist Bernie Sanders, Irish-American, ex-governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, and former Republican Lincoln Chafee – also by at least 50 points. Sanders may be making a strong running in the first of the primary states, Iowa, but no-one believes he can erode her national lead.

Bush is the bookies’ favourite for the Republican nomination, although polls show him around ten per cent, with barely three percentage points between him and five other candidates. He begins his candidacy with around $100 million in his coffers although only about two dozen House members are pledged to him. His brother had at this stage more than half the House Republican caucus, 114 of 222 Republican members.

Bush’s challenge will lie in convincing Republicans he is a genuine conservative while holding firm to liberal positions on immigration and education that are deeply unpopular in the party – no flip-flopper he! His attempts to distance himself from his brother on Iraq have been unconvincing, although he produced a strong indictment of Obama’s foreign policy at his Miami launch.

What this self-described “compassionate conservative” also notionally shares with Clinton is an emphasis on economic inequality and social empowerment, a concern for “the most vulnerable in our society” that appears set to be the major theme of the election, although as Florida governor he was renowned for slashing spending .

Clinton in her New York launch speech conjured up old Democratic hero FDR and let rip against the rich. “These Republicans trip over themselves promising lower taxes for the wealthy and fewer rules for the biggest corporations, without any regard on how that will make inequality worse,” she said, “The top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined, often paying a lower tax rate.”

We have some idea where the battle will be fought, and it won’t be on foreign policy.