The fall has begun in northern Virginia. The leaves slowly turn from green to gold, and from gold to red. The pumpkins have appeared and the air conditioning is no longer needed. And since next year a Presidential election will be held, the thoughts of the Washington political classes are already concentrated on the coming campaign, which formally begins in the new year.
The fundamental fact about next year’s election is that the arithmetic in the electoral college looks good for the Democrats. Large states such as New York and California are solidly Democratic. It will be difficult, but certainly not impossible for the Republican to win. The only large state the Republicans can count on is Texas, and things may be changing even there, given the large immigration from Mexico. However all is not lost. Counter trends in favour of the Republicans may be stirring in such states as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
As to the candidates, the Democratic nomination is Hillary’s to lose. Mrs Clinton was well positioned, but a challenge from self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is drawing her leftward. Many are beginning to think that Vice President Joe Biden has left it too late to get into the race, and the other candidates are little known. Mrs Clinton, who relies on money from Wall Street and Hollywood, is well financed. Talk of her formidable intelligence is somewhat exaggerated. She is bright, if not always wise. However, her brittle intelligence and elegant grooming should not hide the fact that she faces difficulties. She lacks her husband’s charm (and Bill is charming) but she shares his legacy, not all of which is edifying.
It should not be forgotten that she and her husband fought their way to the top in Arkansas, where personal connections count for much and rules for little. Moreover, while it may be unclear what happened in Benghazi further revelations are unlikely to enhance her reputation. Nor is it impossible that investigations into her use of a non-secure private e-mail server while Secretary of State could reveal criminal violations. Nevertheless, if fortified with a well chosen running mate, and assisted by her husband’s skills as a campaigner, she is likely to prove a strong candidate, with an undoubted appeal to women voters.
On the Republican side the candidates for the nomination are numerous, but none except Donald Trump – who has dabbled in both major parties – has caught anyone’s imagination. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, is the candidate of the Republican establishment and has amassed a vast fighting fund. However, he languishes in the polls and is distrusted by conservatives because of his enthusiasm for a greatly expanded role for the federal government in education, and for his support for yet further immigration. Besides the ‘Bush’ brand is not what it once was. Another contender from Florida is Senator Marco Rubio. In many ways attractive, he nonetheless is open to the charge of inconsistency, and has to compete with Bush for support in their home state.
There are two other Republican senators in the race for the nomination. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky looked a ‘comer’ last year when the press dubbed him ‘the most interesting man in politics’ but he seems to have faltered. His anti-interventionist foreign policy has alienated the neo- conservative wing of the party, and his disinclination to flatter his audiences has not advanced him in the polls. Perhaps more significant is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who has quietly consolidated his base with the Republican party, built an impressive ground-level organization, and raised substantial sums. He is tough and brave enough to take on the Clinton Machine and looks well poised to take advantage of any misfortune that should overtake Mr Trump. Mike Huckabee, a former Governor of Arkansas and Rick Sanotorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, the former an evangelical, the latter a staunch Catholic, will continue to contribute to the debate about social issues but neither of them will win a place on the ticket.
Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is an engaging and quietly spoken black conservative. He is widely respected but has a tendency to make remarks that are subject to misinterpretation. Mrs Carly Fiorina, who was the CEO of Hewlett Packard between 1999 and 2005 has enlivened the race with her obvious intelligence. Neither Dr Carson nor Mrs Fiorina has ever held elective office, but both could well fill important posts in any future Republican administration.
And then there is Donald Trump. The key to Mr Trump’s appeal is the audacity he has shown in addressing the issue of immigration. In seeking to explain President Obama’s popularity the Republican political strategist Dick Morris (who also worked for Bill Clinton) pointed out that ‘it is not your father’s America.’ And certainly there has been a huge change in the American population since I staggered off the plane (and into a Washington heat wave) at Dulles Airport in September 1970.
The figures are startling. Since the rules were changed (largely by the efforts of Ted Kennedy) in 1965, more than fifty million immigrants have arrived in the United States, mostly from non-European cultures. Moreover, since 1973 when abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court there have been about the same number of abortions, reducing the number of native-born Americans, both white and black. These two factors alone would have been enough to alter the character of the United States but to them must be added the impact of illegal immigration. No one knows the how many illegal (aka ‘undocumented’) immigrants there are in the country but eleven million is the lowest figure I have heard quoted and the true number could well be very much higher than this. Yet more worryingly, these immigrants still continue to risk their lives to come. (Three women in the boot/trunk of a car with no water was a story I heard in Texas.)
The establishments of both parties have connived at the influx. The business interests who stand behind the Republican party and most of those who seek to be its candidates want cheap labour. And the Democrats want more immigrants, so that they can become, first, clients of the welfare state, and then loyal Democratic voters as soon as they become citizens. No wonder that the current administration is so relaxed in its enforcement of the law!
Everyone accepts that immigrants have contributed enormously to the United States. No one wishes to ban everybody from coming. But the present situation, particularly the flood of immigrants from Mexico, is highly unsatisfactory. Millions of Americans are deeply and legitimately concerned. And this is all the more true because they have never been consulted about what has happened. Donald Trump may sometimes appear boorish, but he is enjoying a wave of popularity which has astonished the commentators by mentioning the issue that the bi-partisan Establishment wishes to avoid.
But back to the election. Who will win next fall? Who will take the famous oath on the steps of the Capitol in January 2017? It is too early to tell. But this is a game for high stakes. Eight more years of Democratic administration, eight more years of unrestricted immigration could change America for ever. If, as seems possible, Hillary and Donald face off next fall we could see an election of unprecedented importance and bitterness.