Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Republican Electoral Paradox

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As the U.S. nears its mid-term elections, primetime U.S. media events—the recent debate on the war against ISIS, global terrorism, the international Ebola scare, and the pending approval of the Keystone Pipeline—are making top news fodder in Canada as well. The upcoming U.S. elections on November 4, 2014 are no exception.

With President Obama’s low approval rating, will the Republicans take control of the Senate? If so, Obama enters the real lame duck period of his presidency because speculation about the 2016 race will begin immediately after election night ends.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly in the lead for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Not even Vice President Joe Biden comes anywhere close. Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Virginia Senator James Webb and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are marginal, at best. The lack of a real primary contest for the Democrats will make the path to nomination a fait accompli for Ms. Clinton, but it will have the disadvantage of keeping her regularly out of the news cycle.  Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to have a real contest with no front runner emerging until late in the campaign.

The paradox is that the Republicans have consistently won the House of Representatives in every election since 1994 with the exception of 2008, when the Obama victory wave swept both houses of Congress. The Senate, however, has been more contentious. 

Democrats have won the White House in four of the last six elections, including Obama’s decisive wins in 2008 and 2012 and the demographic trends point more favorably to the Democrats’ voter base—women, minorities, youth—for future races. This being said, we can expect a tight 2016 presidential race, but only if the Republican Party chooses a candidate closer to mainstream voters, opening itself to new constituencies.

The Republican Party has generally been competitive in White House races when they choose a candidate that appeals to constituents beyond the party’s traditional base, but regardless of whether it elects a potentially more moderate nominee, the Republican Party has been forced closer to the polarizing, ideological right wing due to the influence of evangelicals and the Tea Party. Mitt Romney is a classic example insofar as he backtracked on his record as Massachusetts Governor in order to win the nomination—his candidacy ended up being one without conviction or substance.

The current prospects for the Republican nomination include a hodgepodge of ideological types and some potentially moderate, mainstream candidates. Candidates from the more ideological side include Libertarian favorite, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Tea Party aficionados, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

From the more moderate end, candidates include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and lately, the re-surfaced name of Mitt Romney. Further potential contenders could also include Romney’s 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, evangelical favorite Mike Huckabee, soon-to-be former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and possibly Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Yet, despite what Republican strategists like to call a “strong bench”, there are few candidates serious enough to challenge Hillary Clinton in a national contest.

Of all the GOP candidates, only Bush, Christie and possibly Romney have demonstrated the potential to appeal to mainstream voters. At this stage, Jeb Bush with his swing state Florida roots could potentially be the most serious candidate for the GOP—if he decides to run.

However, this could only happen if the prospective candidate imposes a more moderate, mainstream agenda and message on his party over the strident anti-abortion, pro-gun control views of the ideological right. Republicans will likely remain serious contenders for control of Congress in the upcoming election cycle, but unless the party becomes more inclusive, the likelihood of Republicans winning the White House in 2016 and beyond is far less certain.


John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Tags: Mid-term Elections, United States elections 2016
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