U.S. 2016 elections: The clash of the Titans
By : Joyce Karam
Four days ahead of the voting day in Iowa, the U.S. Presidential race for 2016 is promising a level of unpredictability and maximalism in campaign rhetoric unseen in previous elections. Whether it is the rise of the real estate mogul Donald Trump or the leftist Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders, or the return of the Clintons and the potential entry of billionaire Michael Bloomberg to the race, this is a clash of the Titans in an ever-changing landscape of American politics.
In a broader sense, the 2016 Primary race has effectively defied the old rules and playbook of political campaigning, challenging the party establishments and undermining political dynasties.
The Iowa battle this Monday is a departure from politics as usual and defies the traditional metrics of success in Presidential elections. After all, here is Trump, who has been dubbed as a “clown” by the press and dismissed by almost every Washington pundit when he entered the race last June , leading the Republican race, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is struggling against a 74 year old Senator with a disheveled hair who publicly identifies as a Socialist.
In that sense, both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have used unconventional means such as social media and fiery rhetoric to rally their base, while channeling an oversimplified and sometimes naive foreign policy narrative.
A Titans showdown
Whoever wins on Monday, Iowa won’t spell the end of the primary race. If anything, the outreach capability and massive fundraising numbers for Sanders ($73 million) and candidates like Senator Ted Cruz ($50 million), along with the populous lifeline support for Trump, points to a long race that could stretch till the summer conventions. Nevertheless, a Trump victory in Iowa could help him sweep the three following races in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Nevada, or alternatively face a steeper battle if the more moderate rivals start coalescing around one candidate.
Win or lose, the Trump Titan will linger for a while in 2016, using his media charm and packed rallies to shape the Republican race which concludes in July, or run as Independent thereafter.
On the Democratic side, the close race between Clinton and Sanders could lead to a long primary fight especially if the former Secretary of State loses Iowa. While the Hillary Clinton campaign holds an edge in its ground game, political, and financial operation, Sanders has been able to rally thousands of potential voters and donors that can sustain him for the long haul. A Sanders win on the other hand on Monday, could either give him momentum to seriously challenge Clinton for the nomination or reshuffle the Democratic race, tempting more rivals, reluctant so far to challenge Clinton, to join the battle.
Nevertheless, if we see a surprising twist in 2016 bringing Trump and Sanders as the respective nominees for their parties, it could crack the Presidential race wide open, doubling the odds of a Michael Bloomberg or a Mitt Romney or a John Huntsman independent runs. Such scenario would be the ultimate Titans showdown in U.S. politics, marking a high price tag on 2016, and blurring the lines of the two party system that have historically dominated Presidential elections.
New 2016 rules
In a broader sense, the 2016 Primary race has effectively defied the old rules and playbook of political campaigning, challenging the party establishments and undermining political dynasties. The hurdles encountering the Clinton candidacy, and the diminishing support for once Republican’s favorite Jeb Bush are evident that name recognition and family political history are inconsequential today. While this trend has started with Barack Obama in 2008, the several hiccups that the Jeb Bush campaign has encountered making him number four today in the polls reenforces this sentiment.
The power of social media and maximalist political rhetoric have also come to define the 2016 race and the rise of Trump and Sanders. Trump’s praise for Russia, call for extreme measures on immigration, and Sanders embrace of Socialism and calls to breaking up the big banks could have sunk their chances in a different era. But the new landscape of American politics, driven by hashtags and more populous narratives is fueling this rise, while undermining political centrism.
Added to this, the lack of campaign finance reform increases the ability of billionaires and special interest groups to enter or influence the Presidential race. Spending and negative campaigning is expected to break record figures in 2016, while Michael Bloomberg is already hinting at spending a billion dollar of his fortune if he chooses to run.
Whoever the name of the winner is in Iowa on Monday, the train of the 2016 elections has already left the station of conventional politics. It would be wise to brace for a feverish battle that will ignore the old playbook of campaigning, and erase the boundaries of spending and attack lines to get to go the White House.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam
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