Current state of the American presidential race
The American presidential race is a not a sprint - it is a marathon. As someone who has completed several marathons, I can testify that that the race looks very different at the end than it does in the beginning. Gasping for oxygen, and unable to withstand the pain that floods through the body, several runners drop out as the race progresses.
With only two contests (Iowa and New Hampshire) completed, continuing the marathon analogy, the race has covered only one mile, with 25 more miles to go. Lacking oxygen, which in the presidential race parlance means funding and popular support, several candidates have dropped out - Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Gov. Chris Christie on the Republican side, and Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Martin O'Malley on the Democratic side.
With the winnowing of the field, the Democratic nominee will either be Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders. One of the six remaining candidates - Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Jeb Bush or Dr. Ben Carson - will be the Republican nominee. After the New Hampshire primary, British bookmaker Ladbrokes put the odds of Hillary Clinton winning the presidency at 50 percent, and Donald Trump at 18 percent. These odds will change as the race unfolds.
Every American state is different. Iowa (92 percent white) and New Hampshire (94 percent) are lily white states. Evangelical Christians voted overwhelmingly for Ted Cruz to make him the winner of the Republican Iowa caucus. Liberal white Iowa Democrats split almost evenly, making Clinton the winner by a squeaker over Sanders.
Independents and liberals dominate New Hampshire. According to conventional wisdom, that is why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won so handily. Pundits explained Sanders' shellacking of Clinton by 22 percent (60 percent to 38 percent) by arguing that Sanders is from neighbouring Vermont, and that the New Hampshire folks favour their neighbours, just as Sen. Paul Tsongas of neighbouring Massachusetts had defeated Bill Clinton (33 percent to 25 percent) in the 1992 New Hampshire primary. If the Clinton campaign believes that, they are in trouble.
Americans are angry. It is not clear why. With unemployment at 3.1 percent and oil prices a third of what it was five years ago, there is no reason why New Hampshire residents should be angry. But they are. Perhaps it is a delayed reaction to their suffering during the recession of a few years ago. Perhaps Americans are truly fed up with a dysfunctional federal government.
Republican angst is understandable. They thought that the first African American president Barack Obama will smile, wave at the cameras, be grateful for being elected president, and govern timidly. They did not expect Obama to govern so aggressively and so transformationally, defying a hostile Republican-controlled House and Senate. Obama represents the browning of America that they fear. From the get go, Donald Trump embraced this xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria, which catapulted him to the top and is likely to keep him perched there. Immigration is the Right's trump card.
Republicans may think Obama has done too much, but the Sanders supporters think he has done too little. For them the modest Obamacare is not enough, they want universal health coverage, which Sanders promises. For the millennials (those under 30), 84 percent of whom supported Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, their first interaction with capitalism is a student loan. Sanders promises tuition-free college education. Young and idealistic, the millennials resent the injustice inherent in 1 percent of the population hogging most of the wealth. Sanders rails against income inequality, which resonates perfectly with the Left. Income inequality is the Left's burning issue.
The problem for Hillary Clinton, the policy wonk, is that she is up against a message machine in Sanders. In 2008, Hillary ran on competence, not as potentially the first female president. Eight years later, America has moved on. For the millennials, glass ceiling and feminism are passé. When the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Clinton advocate, said, "There is a special place in hell for women who do not help women," she was censured by all and sundry. As Sanders pushes the Democratic Party to the left, even articulating some disagreements with the president, Hillary counters by hugging Obama and his left of center policies tightly, primarily to endear herself to the black voters.
The problem for Sanders is that his proposals will require hefty tax hikes which will hit the millennials hard. And how can Sanders talk of a revolution, which means overthrow of the present system, while supporting the current president who embodies the system? The problem for Hillary is that she is a master of facts in a fact-free election cycle. She has no clear message, talks a lot about, and looks like a candidate of the past, although Sanders is six years her senior (74 to 68). While Sanders' motto is revolution, Hillary's credo is incremental change. The problem for the Democrats is that they like both Hillary and Bernie!
The next Democratic contest (February 20) is the Nevada caucus. If Hillary does not win that diverse state (Whites=52 percent, Latino=28 percent, Blacks=9 percent), alarm bells will ring loudly.
According to America's best prognosticator, Nate Silver, Clinton and Sanders both have a 50 percent chance of winning Nevada, and Hillary has a 95 percent chance of winning the February 27 Democratic primary in South Carolina (Whites=64 percent; Blacks=28 percent), where 55 percent of the registered Democrats are blacks who overwhelmingly support Hillary.
Silver estimates that Donald Trump has a 31 percent chance of winning the February 23 Republican Nevada caucus (Cruz 19 percent, Rubio 11 percent), and 64 percent chance of winning the February 20 South Carolina Republican primary (Rubio 15 percent, Cruz 11 percent). Why is Trump, a non-practicing Christian, trouncing devoutly Christian candidates (Cruz, Rubio) in South Carolina where white Evangelical Christians dominate? Why is Trump, the plutocrat who belongs to the 1 percent, and who was a Democrat most of his life, leading in every state? Probably because the Republicans believe that Trump is the only Republican who can defeat the Democratic nominee and win the presidency in November.
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.