What hope for liberalism in the US presidential election?

American history and politics are a passion of mine, so I always look forward to their primary season.

A year when the incumbent President is not seeking reelection is always especially interesting because it means both big parties engage fully in the lengthy process of selecting a candidate. 2016 is such a year.

American politics is unique and finding a viable candidate from what we would call the centre left is difficult. The Republicans have been an almost exclusively right wing conservative party for decades. Even those in the establishment who have resisted the insurgency of the so called tea party can be pretty scary.

Democrats too have shifted rightwards. Bill Clinton founded the ‘New Democrats’ before Blair’s New Labour and, inspite of all the talk of change, the Obama Presidency has turned out to be pretty much business as usual in most areas.On human rights and civil liberties in particular the administration varies little from its predecessors. The prison at Guantanamo Bay remains open and the draconian Patriot Act firmly in place.

Smaller challengers to the two party monopoly, like Ralph Nader and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party have openly stated that they see no real difference between the Democrats and Republicans as they attempt to forge a viable third party challenge. Arguably their respective Green and Libertarian campaigns have given those movements a higher profile than liberalism.

You have to go back a long way to likes of JFK or FDR to find a President prepared to use the ‘ L’ word to describe his political philosophy.Progessive policies are even more historical starting around the era of Teddy Roosevelt and effectively ending by the middle of the century. I am not including civil rights, which came a bit later, which addressed racial politics rather than social reform. In fact when the likes of Martin Luther King started to address the latter they were firmly blocked by the establishment.

So in all this gloom what is the US General Election next year set to look like?

Can Donald Trump secure the GOP nomination and with it the Presidency?

I doubt it. Nixon was right when he stated you had to tack to the right to win the Republican nomination and then rush back to centre to win the big prize. Trump is clearly doing the former (as are his fellow contenders), but looks incapable of doing the latter.
He and his party face another hurdle in contemporary America, namely an increasingly multi- cultural nation where the core Republican support is shrinking.

So the smart money has to be on Hilary Clinton wrapping up her place at the head of the Democratic ticket and then making her way to the White House.

Whatever happens though, the prospects for liberalism across the pond are pretty bleak.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Alex Macfie 6th Jan '16 - 9:27am

    There are practically no actual socialists in US politics. The furthest left it seems to go is someone like Bernie Sanders, but he would probably be classed as a mainstream social democrat in Europe. Obama and Clinton would be centrist conservatives.

  • Alex Macfie 6th Jan '16 - 9:28am

    I meant Bill Clinton; Hillary is somewhat more left-wing (but still not very left-wing in terms of European politics).

  • If Donald Trump makes it all the way to the white House , there will be a massive surge in people signing up to be in the first colony on Mars

  • Trump is a much harder to pin down character than he’s being made out to be. Economically he’s not in the mainstream of republican politics, has said that the rich should pay more etc. I would say he was really a throwback to an American Conservatism that was less interested in foreign policy or “neo Liberal” economic concerns and globalism, more focused on a form of nationalism.

    Clinton, unfortunately, is too much of a Democratic Party animal and is offering nothing unexpected. Personally, I suspect Trump will narrowly miss the nomination but on the outside chance he does get it will win the presidency. I don’t see the other Republican candidates as presidential contenders.

    To me, parts of the liberal mainstream are failing to spot cultural shifts and a return to Nation based politics so are a little stuck in the pre-2008 consensus. Large scale economic collapse always reshapes politics one way or the other eventually.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Jan '16 - 2:41pm

    I’ve been following US politics somewhat recently. The armed militia taking over the wildlife refuge in Oregon, which I strongly disagree with, throws up all kinds of questions about attitudes towards the federal government in rural USA. They can be called a terrorist group in my eyes, but that is another matter.

    Bernie Sanders gave a strongly left wing speech last night. It was beyond anything a social democrat would say in the UK. He talked about dismantling the banks, lots more taxes and regulation and said “fraud is the business model of Wall Street”. Ed Miliband talked about reform, but he didn’t use language as aggressive as this.

    Hillary Clinton is the best hope for anyone on the centre-left. Personally I prefer Obama to anyone else with a serious hope of getting past the Primary stages. Hillary isn’t really centre-left, but she’s currently leaning that way to get the nomination. Who knows whether she will stay there.

    I’m very uncomfortable with Republican attitudes towards abortion, but I personally think Ted Cruz could get the Republican nomination. He’s basically a professional populist who wants to win the primaries, whereas I think Trump just wants to promote his personal opinions and he’s burning bridges with some in the “party establishment”.

  • Good to see this , like you ,David , one of my biggest interests in politics too , since childhood ,and then attending , having begun my degree in history and politics , an event of Democrats Abroad in 1988, for Michael Dukakis , at which I met the great musician , Larry Adler , who played for Gershwin !!! I subsequently , and perhaps inevitably , married into the country , literally ! So , other than the UK , it s the country I know best .Not sure I agree with the extent of pessimism re American Liberalism . True , John , in the US too many equate the ” L ” word with a way of saying ” the left “, or socialism , but more aware Democrats , and there are many , know otherwise . Howard Dean etc , who contribute to Liberal International , well understand the strands of Liberal thinking . Have you discovered the Liberal Party of New York , they do not field candidates , but back Democrats and even republicans or independents who are Liberals , and in the sense we would mean that . Not sure I would agree with Alex about Bill Clinton , and definitely not on Obama . All political stances in modern politics are relative , a philosophy exists in of itself , and in relation to what it s up against . A glance at other Liberal parties shows that . There are innumerable Liberal Democrats , in the US , we should be making common cause with . Great to see David allude to FDR and JFK , the former a definite Social Liberal in keeping with Loyd George , who he was influenced by , the latter a definite centrist Liberal , whatever others say in my view !Kennedy s speech on being nominated by the Liberal Party of New York for president , available on , you tube , is terrific , check it out anyone who has not !

  • David Warren 6th Jan '16 - 6:10pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Lorenzo I didn’t know about the Liberal Party of New York I will look them up.

  • The Professor 6th Jan '16 - 8:04pm

    “Despite what I said earlier, it would be an eye opener to take a look at the ballot paper US citizens are expected to complete on Presidential Election Day.”

    It can take voters several minutes to actually vote on polling day due to the complexity of the ballot paper and the various levels of government and initiatives.
    This is the reason why machines are used and still people may have to queue for hours.

    See Maryland ballot paper for election day 2012 (note many ballots for the various Districts within Maryland):

  • John Mitchell 7th Jan '16 - 5:30pm

    @ Glenn

    I agree in that Donald Trump is a throwback or appealing to a core of nationalistic sentiment. He perhaps faces bigger opportunities for criticism within the Republican party itself (not a conservative candidate, not hawkish and appears inept at foreign policy). The attacks on Donald Trump are not working as Jeb Bush can attest to though.

    As far as Republicans as realistic presidential contenders I believe it comes down to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz or someone that can hold down the Christian evangelical right. Currently there are four canidates in Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum vying for that vote. Only Cruz and Carson have gained any traction. Both have the same problem that Trump does in that they’re never going to be able to appeal to the entire country. I doubt Jeb Bush is going to get the nomination but this also says something about Hillary Clinton in that people want something different.

    I actually think that the Republcian party has the advantage in this presidential race against someone in Hillary Clinton who is not very popular herself.

    I like Rand Paul from the Republican side but unfortunately his focus on the constitution, liberty, privacy and less militarism is not winning him favour. In many respects Donald Trump, has benefited from the news agenda and an increasing fear over terrorism and security. That’s not something that can be predicted or accounted for.

  • David Warren 9th Jan '16 - 11:01am

    Rand Paul is the only GOP contender who is saying something a bit different.

    Unfortunately he lacks charisma and is battling the biased right wing media that favours the neocons.

    Don’t rule out Jeb Bush just yet, Romney was being written off around this time in the last cycle and he ended up with the nomination.

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