The Pretender Ponies on the Right and the Vulnerable Veteran on the Left

Friday, May 8, 2015

The AmCham Canada 'State of America' Series
A series of articles and commentary on issues related to the state of economic, political and business affairs in the United States.
Number 12 - May 8, 2015

The Pretender Ponies on the Right and the Vulnerable Veteran on the Left
by Adam Daifallah and Tom Kott

Barring a disaster of inconceivable scale, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for U.S.President next year. The aura of inevitability is just too strong to counter, at least at the time of this writing. 

On the Republican side, things aren’t so clear. The good news for the GOP is they have a long list of possible candidates; the bad news is they have a long list of possible candidates. Though a more competitive race helps the spread of ideas and is generally a good thing for democracy,they will all be competing for limited fundraising dollars and crowding the airwaves, making it difficult for a front-runner to emerge and position him or herself as the clear challenger to Hillary Clinton. While Clinton can already start setting the tone of the presidential campaign, the eventual Republican winner could be stuck in a primary battle until close to the party convention in July 2016.

A big part of a candidate’s electability comes down to how well the person connects with the average voter. The candidate most likely to succeed is the one just smooth enough to appear polished and professional, but who’s not so rehearsed as to look like an automaton. Let’s call it a Sincerity Spectrum, with phony, platitude-repeating candidates on one extreme, and an inexperienced, gaffe-prone newbies on the other. The one who comes down halfway between the two extremes has the best chance to win. The Republican field has some of the former (Ted Cruz is a prime example) – and a few of the latter (Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t seem ready for prime time).

The one who hits the sweet spot is Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor comes off as having just enough professionalism to be ready for prime time, but still seems like the kind of guy you could down pints with at a pub. He’ll be the one to look out for in the next few weeks and months.

The common assumption is that Cruz knows he can’t win, but running for president will raise his profile and heighten the chances of a cabinet post if he aligns with the nominee. Marco Rubio, once a Tea Party darling, has suffered in the past several years for flip flopping on immigration issues and straying from the right to the centre, then back to the right again in an unpredictable fashion. Rand Paul provides an interesting grassroots alternative to the mainstream Republican lineup. Paul is a pragmatic libertarian who sees a need for smaller government, more civil liberties, and a reduction is foreign intervention. Though he’s less ideological than his father Ron, Paul’s firestorm brand of politics may have a hard time gaining traction with the Wall Street types and more traditional Republicans.

The safe option for the GOP will likely be Jeb Bush, son of and brother to former U.S.presidents. Jeb is the establishment candidate à la Mitt Romney, but with more personality. He is neither too radical nor too centrist, but that is not necessarily a good thing when trying to mobilize the party.

Once the primaries conclude, both nominees will have their hands full. It will be hard for Hillary Clinton to recapture the aura of hope and enthusiasm that both she and Barack Obama enjoyed in 2008. Her term as Secretary of State ended with the violent death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi. Political observers continue to question Clinton’s management of the situation and her lack of action in response to the worries of regional diplomats witnessing the deteriorating situation in Libya. 

There’s also the revelation that the former Secretary of State relied solely on her personal email account to deal with sensitive national security measures. While this clearly puts her judgment into question given all we know about global cyber security, it also puts her into shady legal territory. Her exclusive use of personal emails, and the fact that many of her correspondences were deleted, is thought to violate National Archives and Records Administration rules on record maintenance. The wound is fresh, so the consequences for Clinton are still unknown.

And of course, there’s the Clinton Foundation, the charitable behemoth that has accepted donations from all sorts of seedy foreign countries. The New York Times’ recent investigation into the matter found that people associated with Uranium One donated nearly $40 million to the Foundation prior to the takeover of the company by Rosatom, a Russian state corporation. The federal government’s approval of the sale gave Russia control of 20% of the United States’ strategic uranium reserves. Even the most loyal Democrats would be forgiven for wondering if the money played a part in the State Department’s approval of the transaction.

This all puts Clinton in an uncomfortable position, and it can only go down from here. The baggage from her time in the Obama administration outweighs any attempt to bring back the luster of her optimism from 2008. The inefficiency of the Obama years also cast a shadow of doubt on the view that a Clintonian presidency would result in any meaningful change, despite the hopeful rhetoric she will no doubt rely on to secure her desired post. If the power and might behind Obama couldn’t change the country in eight years, is there such a thing as ‘change we can believe in’?

Adam Daifallah is co-founder and partner of HATLEY Strategy Advisors, a public affairs and communications consulting firm with offices in Montreal and Quebec City. Mr. Daifallah is a skilled communicator who interacts with key decision-makers in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and Washington, D.C. He is an instructor at McGill University's Department of North American Studies, a fellow of the Montreal Economic Institute and a frequent commentator on public affairs in newspapers, on radio and television. 

Tom Kott is a consultant with HATLEY Strategy Advisors and contributed to this article.

Contributors:  Adam Daifallah - John Parisella - Stephen Kelly - Elisabeth Vallet - Tom Velk - Donald Cuccioletta

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