Although over a year remains before voting day, the jostling for the position of Republican Presidential Candidate amongst the hopefuls is underway. In these early days, the field is wide open, with over twenty realistic Republican primary candidates in the fray, although a few contenders seem to be cementing their position at the front of the pack already.
Both John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008 and Mitt Romney, the candidate in 2012, have bowed out of the race, so it is out with the old and in with the new for a party desperate to find a unifying figure that also appeals to the US’ crucial swing voters.
Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, is the latest member of the Bush political dynasty to publicly express interest in running for the Presidency. With backing from much of the party establishment and a deep-pocketed donor network, he is seen as a favourite. Perceived as more moderate than both his father and brother, he has spoken of improving upward-mobility and reforming immigration, a move many have interpreted as an appeal to minority voters, an increasingly important American voting block that typically votes Democrat. His family name bears many advantages, but are Americans looking for a new leader untarnished by the unpopular political status quo?
Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin and ex-talk radio host, embodies the ‘new generation’ of Republicans, untainted by the machine politics of Washington. A proven conservative that has won two consecutive terms in a traditionally Democratic state makes him hot property in the Grand Old Party (GOP). Ted Cruz, the young Texan senator, is however also vying for position as the sweetheart of the Republican conservative wing. There is strong competition for this important split in the GOP.
Another contender, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, also has broad appeal with his mix of Tea Party credentials and liberal views. However, his non-interventionist foreign policy positions could damage his chances, as the Republican foreign policy debate becomes increasingly hawkish in light of new threats from ISIS and Russian belligerence in Ukraine. Paul, as well as other potential nominees like Bush and Texan Governor Rick Perry, are running on the strength of their record within their home state, but few of the stand-out candidates have proven foreign policy experience.
In a move widely seen to address this shortfall in his Presidential credentials, respected New Jersey governor Chris Christie made a recent 3 day trip to the UK which included a meeting with David Cameron. After being cleared of wrong-doing in the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal in his home state, he looks clear to run as a leading figure of the Republican party with wide support, although some see him as too brusque to garner popular appeal.
Over the past six decades, the ten most polarising years in terms of presidential approval have been under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The Republican establishment must be feeling the pressure to find a candidate that will appeal to the both the party faithful and the broader American public. Unity under one figure is, however, a tall order. The GOP itself is internally divided across the right-half of the political spectrum, from Tea Party and Evangelical voters at the extreme right to more centrist moderates.
Can such a candidate appeal to a diverse American electorate that has voted for a Democratic President during the last two occasions? Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, is sure to provide a formidable challenge to whoever wins the Republican primaries.