2016 should be the Republicans’ year for the White House

2016 should be the Republicans’ year for the White House

But only if they can choose the right candidate

Hillary Clinton will be the Democrats’ candidate for the presidency next year, short of falling under a bus. Sanders is far too left-wing to be electable and offers nothing beyond his base, Biden has announced he won’t run, and no-one else is on the same lap, never mind in the frame. All she has to do is turn up, smile and not have a TalkTalk account.

That she isn’t facing a heavyweight challenge is something of a surprise. She has, after all, been beaten before and if she does win, it’ll lock out anyone else’s chances for at least eight years. Furthermore, she’s not all that popular. Her favourability ratings have headed fairly consistently south over the last three years, from about a +25 rating in November 2012 to around -8 now. While that’s better than Donald Trump (-17), Jeb Bush (-16), Ted Cruz (-15) or Ben Carson (-12), it’s worse than Marco Rubio (-1) – and those she leads are hardly out of sight. Furthermore, while she retains a narrow lead over Trump on the head-to-head national polls, she now trails Carson and is near-enough level pegging with Rubio and Bush. This is very far from an invincible candidate.

Add in that the Republicans comfortably won the 2014 Congressional elections and that the Obama factor, which undoubtedly boosted African-American participation, won’t be there next year for the Democrats, and all else being equal, the Republicans probably start ahead in the race.

Whether they’ll finish ahead depends, however, on the candidate they pick. One of the ironies of the 2012 election was that ‘Generic Republican’ consistently polled best against Obama, which it could be argued was what they ultimately went with. Not only did none of the field have star quality, they were all net vote-losers. The Republicans could, perhaps, have won if only they could have found someone to win with.

So to this election. The first big question is whether the Republicans will choose a career politician or not. Neither of the two current front-runners, Trump and Carson, has ever held a public office before nor made a meaningful bid for one. That isn’t a bar to being elected, as the polls testify, but certainly represents a higher risk than a more seasoned politician. Trump has already made gaffes that would have finished a lesser man and you do wonder whether another at the wrong time or in the wrong place might prove terminal. Carson, by contrast, just seems lightweight.

But if so, why aren’t the others doing better? Trump’s charisma and energy might be part of that – two things not overflowing in the rest of the field – as is policy. As has been mentioned before on the site, Marco Rubio ought to be a very strong contender (see the approval figures above), yet his immigration record has scope to hurt him with the core while his fiscal and social policy stance is not designed to attract the centre. Not that you necessarily need all the centre: about half of it should be enough. Against that, Bush and Fiorina look to be running out of momentum, while Cruz has never really had any but remains sufficiently in the race to be on hand to pick up support when another conservative falters. At 20/1, he is probably worth a trading bet if nothing else.

As things stand, I’d write off Carson, Bush and Fiorina. Trump has the potential to go the distance, as does Rubio, as – possibly – does one from the field who comes good at the right time, which is to say Iowa and New Hampshire in three months’ time. The importance of Iowa can be overstated: John McCain finished fourth there in 2008 and Mitt Romney also lost in 2012, albeit by a tiny margin. By contrast, no candidate has ever finished worse than second in New Hampshire and gone on to win, though George W Bush trailed by some 19% to John McCain in 2000. This isn’t an iron law – a big field and a short run to Super Tuesday this year does make it possible for a candidate to recover from further back if they’ve strength elsewhere – but it is a strong trend.

Of those, I don’t think a lucky also-ran will be able to beat Hillary: they’ll have to run so far right that they’ll never be able to get back. Trump, on the other hand, could win and Rubio should win (if you don’t believe me about Trump, re-check the stats above). Of the two, the markets have over-reacted to Rubio: 2/1 is too short for the nomination though 7/1 is not bad for the presidency. Trump, however, has led the field by some distance for three full months and at 5/1 for the nomination is good value.

David Herdson

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