The Foreign Students’ Guide to the 2016 United States Presidential Election

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As students or prospective students in the United States or anywhere else for that matter, it’s always a good idea to have a good understanding of the society you are implanted in for a set amount of time.

Even though it’s still early in 2015, you may or may not realize that in November 2016, the United States will hold its biggest political spectacle that is the U.S. presidential election. With the proximity of the election nearing, it is guaranteed that political debate and general discourse will increase exponentially all the way up to the election.

Based on my experience of studying at an American institution, it’s worth your time taking a brief moment to familiarize yourself with the political climate of the U.S. I’ve seen all too many examples of foreign students living the U.S. making the mistake of being indifferent towards political issues. It’s a common misconception that the outcome of U.S. politics does not affect foreign students in any way. In fact, the buzzing up on Capitol Hill and the White House may have direct implications on foreign students’ livelihood and even their future. If anything, knowledge of U.S. politics can also be helpful in enabling students to fully enjoy their experience studying abroad by unlocking additional conversational topics with American citizens because many Americans – especially students – are quite opinionated when it comes to important issues such as gay marriage, immigration, and economic growth.

Therefore, if you haven’t already, you should soon know what is considered liberal or conservative, familiarize yourself with political jargons such as “PAC” or “exploratory committee,” and of course, you should know the potential presidential hopefuls that sometime next year, will be everywhere from television to roadside billboards.

It’s worth noting that the election trail is still at a very early stage and almost no one has formally launched a presidential campaign. This list of likely candidates only reflects the current U.S. political situation and will no doubt change as time goes by.

Democrats

1. Hillary Clinton

Of all the names on this list, Hillary Clinton’s name is perhaps the most well-known. Of all the names on this list, she is also one of the most likely to launch a full scale presidential bid.

Wife of former president Bill Clinton, the former New York Senator and former U.S. Secretary of State ruffled some feathers when she did not continue her role as Secretary of State for Barack Obama’s second term; immediately setting off rumblings that she will run for president in 2016.

A year removed from election year, Hillary Clinton has so far carried out covert campaigns and fundraising, but has yet to formally announce a bid for presidency.

Known as somewhat of a “middle of the aisle” liberal Democrat, Clinton has been at the epicenter of U.S. politics for such a long time that many see her as an obvious choice for presidential candidate representing the Democrats.

A lot of the Democratic caucus see her as a potential lightning rod that could carry on Obama’s torch, mainly due to the fact that her name and face is well known with American citizens, she may attract women voters, and her stance on carrying liberal agendas –in truth– with a more moderate tone. Although she may in fact start out more progressive than President Obama if she were to be elected. This means that might take the side of universal health care, prioritizing education reforms, and carrying on the same immigration policies that’s in place during Obama’s term.

It will be one of the biggest stories of the year if she finally decides against running for the highest office in the United States.

 2. Joe Biden

On the Democratic Party’s side, the name that is most visible is Hillary Clinton. Second to Clinton however, is current U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden has given minimum, if any hints that he might run for president in 2016. Currently still serving as the number two person in the United States, it will take more time for us to know if he really is running for president next year.

Biden is relatively liked among the Democratic caucus. Although he may have a few dissenters, Biden does have enough recognition among the American population, and even has a sliver of cult followers that thinks he’s the most interesting man in the government.

The main drawback for Democrats considering Biden to be their spearhead is that some may fear he’s too closely linked to President Obama, which may have been a political capital in 2008 and 2012, but as the years went on it has transformed somewhat into a political liability due to Obama’s increased unpopularity among non-party voters and even among Democrats. Case in point: according to a CBS News poll carried out in January 2015, a whopping 85% of Democrat voters would like to see Hillary Clinton run for president, while in contrast only 40% of voters want to see Joe Biden run for president. Biden’s also had a slew of controversies that may prevent him from getting the full support of the Democratic caucus.

Meanwhile, Biden’s stance on policies, if he were to run, are still unclear at this moment. This due to the fact he’s still currently serving as the vice president and it will be a total calamity if he were to start preaching his stances this early. But one can expect for Biden to champion similar agendas with President Obama.

While we can expect Biden’s name to be thrown around as the year progresses, it would not be a complete surprise if his name is not included in the final Democratic primary.

3. Jim Webb

The first person from this list to actually form an exploratory committee to evaluate a presidential bid.

A former senator of Virginia, Jim Webb may not be considered a household name in the U.S., but he’s always had a good political track record and even delivered the Democratic Party’s response to the State of the Union address back in 2007 when George W. Bush was president. He’s also had a fairly respectable career in the United States military as a marine and occupied the post of United States Secretary of the Navy from 1987 to 1988 when Ronald Reagan was still president.

In terms of visibility, Jim Webb will have a lot of work to do to catch up to other more prominent Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and even Elizabeth Warren. According to a CBS News poll in January 2015, only 6% of voters would want to see Webb launch a formal bid for the presidency.

It is still relatively unknown where on the liberal spectrum Webb falls on. This will only become clear once he formally launches his campaign.

During his time as senator, he tried to push through some criminal justice reformations through Capitol Hill that reevaluated the criminal justice system in the U.S. and aimed to fix the negative impact the system has on the union as a whole.

If Webb were to be elected, this writer can assume that he might make homeland security and the aforementioned reformation of the criminal justice system as priorities. A renewed push for the legalization of marijuana? You probably can count on it. Because the legalization will definitely affect the already over-encumbered penitentiary system in the U.S.

4. Elizabeth Warren

Frankly, it’s unlikely Elizabeth Warren will make it all the way to the Democratic primary, not because of low credibility or electability, but because she’s so far rebuffed any rumors circulating that puts her in contention for the presidency. Nevertheless, politics are a tricky game and anything can happen.

Outside of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, the outspoken senator from Massachusetts is the person Democrat voters are most excited to see run from president. According to a CBS News poll in January 2015, 23% of voters would like to see Warren get in the ring and duke it out with Hillary.

A darling of liberal activists, Warren can be considered close to being ultra-progressive. She has been the most vocal politician on Capitol Hill that takes aim at the wealth inequality within the United States. Many of her rhetoric has centered on the issue that the wealthy are getting even wealthier and the poor are not being looked after; a mantra that has been mentioned numerous times by a certain President Obama as recent as the 2015 State of the Union address.

With President Obama seemingly setting the election stage to include wealth inequality as a core issue, all points lead to a credible platform for a Warren presidential bid in 2016. If (a pretty huge “if”) Warren does run, you can expect her to lead the charge in raising taxes for the big moneymakers, making education more affordable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she somehow supplants Obamacare with an even more progressive health care program.

Her main challenge? Another Democratic woman named Hillary Clinton. Even though Warren may not run in 2016, I decided to mention Warren in this list for the sake of playful imagination, a “what if?” scenario that might otherwise deprive the Democratic playing field of some fiery competition.

5, Other Candidates

What other candidates?

Joking aside, the Democratic lineup for the 2016 presidential election is eerily thin at this point. Keyword: at this point.

At this point, it’s as if everybody in the Democratic caucus is already taking preemptive measures from being steamrolled by the ever-growing juggernaut of the Hillary Clinton political machine. Of course there are other names that we might see enter the fray later on, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, independent Senator Bernie Sanders, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. But their recognition pales in comparison to Clinton, Biden, and Warren; almost guaranteed not enough to surmount a proper challenge.

As far as this writer’s concerned, all early signs point to Hillary getting the presidential nomination from the Democrats. But in order for that to happen, she will need at least a stiff competition from her fellow party members to legitimize her electability in front of the American public.

Republicans

1. Jeb Bush

Of all the names on this list, Jeb Bush is arguably the most connected presidential hopeful. Son of former president George H. Bush and younger brother of former president George W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s last major political post was as Governor of Florida during his brother’s terms as U.S. president.

Considered a surprise entrant when his name was first mentioned as a 2016 hopeful, Jeb Bush certainly has the political capital and credibility to make a major presidential bid. If elected president, it will officially cement the Bush family as one of the most powerful families in the history of the United States.

In December 2014, Bush officially announced that he would explore the possibility of launching a presidential bid.

A fiscal conservative, Jeb Bush is considered to be a moderate in terms of his policy. He even went as far as criticizing the GOP (Grand Old Party, which is another name for The Republicans Party) in 2012 to Bloomberg View stating that the current Republican Party is too conservative and too partisan. This in turn may hinder Bush’s chances of being elected as the GOP’s nominee as it may disenchant some of the Republican Party’s more hardline members – a base that has grown significantly since his brother George W. Bush was in office.

In order for younger brother Bush to succeed as president, he will most likely revitalize a lot of George W.’s policies, though depending on pressure from the GOP itself and the Tea Party backers, the policies might even be more conservative than older brother’s. One can expect a renewed focus on homeland security, which may have ripple effects to immigration laws. He’ll probably also back a smaller government control, which would mean that universal health care might no longer matter.

2. Chris Christie

For a brief while considered to be the hottest name in the Republican Party that might vie for the presidential candidate, Chris Christie has since then dropped off the radar due to controversies and only featured intermittently when the presidential election is discussed.

As governor of New Jersey, Christie was in office when Hurricane Sandy hit and significantly affected the New Jersey coastline. He’s also considered by many to be a moderate conservative, in such that he’s gone on record supporting same-sex unions, accommodating immigration laws, and a more lenient approach in limiting abortions. Therefore, Christie has always been on the crosshairs of extreme right-wings that consider him not worthy of carrying their conservative agendas in government. According to a poll by CBS News in January 2015, only 29% of Republicans want to see Christie run for office while 44% of Republicans say they don’t want Christie to run for office.

In other circles, Christie might just be the perfect Republican candidate to attract non-party voters due to his moderate stances on some hot-topic issues. But his lack of support from conservatives, especially from the Tea-Party backers will hugely impact his chances of winning the Republican primary. Nevertheless, Chris Christie will be a common name heard throughout 2015.

3. Scott Walker

As of February 2015, here lies a candidate whose stock is sharply rising. Fair to say, Scott Walker is currently the hot ticket from the Republican field of candidates.

Currently the Governor of Wisconsin, Walker’s name has been paraded around by mainstream media recently as a potentially potent challenger to Mike Huckabee and Jeb Bush. Walker has been touted by many as a breath of fresh air mainly because he’s been repeatedly calling out for “big, bold, fresh” ideas from those who are clamoring for the White House job. The Los Angeles Times in an article on 2 February 2015, even went as far as claiming Walker to be the “vanilla” candidate because “he’s not anyone’s favorite, but nobody hates him.”

A thorough conservative, Walker has so far opposed abortion and champions fiscal shrewdness at the government level. If he were to run for president, you can expect Walker to ride a similar platform all the way up to the primaries. This means it’s highly likely he will make a case for tax cuts for businesses, oppose universal healthcare, and stricter immigration laws.

It remains to be determined just how much of his “big, bold, fresh” mantra will actually transpire in his campaign trail. But one thing’s for certain, Bush, Huckabee, and the other GOP hopefuls have to keep an eye out on Walker.

4. Mike Huckabee

Another former presidential candidate from the Republican Party back in 2008, Mike Huckabee did not launch a bid for the presidency in 2012, although he was a perennial favorite among both the GOP establishment and Republican voters that year. 

The governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007, Huckabee has recently quit his post as a political pundit on Fox News, further fueling rumors that he might be gearing up for another presidential bid in 2016. Although he has yet to formally announce a decision, speculation is rampant that he will definitely throw his name into the pool of GOP hopefuls.

A conservative through and through, Huckabee has in the past taken a strong stance against same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun control. He also opposes Obama’s health care plan and back in 2008 when he was running for president, proposed much stricter immigration laws. Although he holds a conservative agenda on paper, he’s also been criticized by ultra-conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh.

Even if he does carry a straightforward conservative agenda, Huckabee has also managed to gain some support from minority groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics, which is something not typically easy for a Republican candidate in recent history. Regardless, Huckabee is one to watch out for in the lead up to the election.

5. Other Candidates

Unlike their Democratic counterparts, the upcoming 2016 election will be a free-for-all that can go anywhere for the GOP. A clear favorite or front-runner will unlikely be visible until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio next July. Even then, we may not even see a clearer picture.

It’s speculated in the media that it will be a very crowded stage for the Republican Party as everyone is bracing themselves for potential presidential bids. The aforementioned names above are only four of the most visible candidates, those who I personally believe that may make it to the Republican primary. Previously Mitt Romney was on this list, but as of the end of January 2015, he has announced that he is no longer seeking a third election bid.

Names like Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, and even Sarah Palin are believed to be interested in vying for the presidential nominee of the GOP. To add to that list, are also Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, three electrifying senators – to say the least– that seemingly have full support of the grassroots. This would probably mean we can expect at least one of the trio to make it all the way to July as a nominee.

In Closing…

The U.S. presidential election have always been dramatic to say the least. Leading up to the election, you can gear up for a lot of heated political debate, speculations, and of course, if you’re living in the United States, be prepared to be hit on the head with a massive blunt object that will break into smaller pieces each filled with political agendas and issues.

As seen above, the Democratic playing field seems a lot less exciting than the Republicans. On one hand, there’s already a de jure front runner in Hillary Clinton. While on the flip side, it looks as if the Republicans may be bracing for a good old fashioned three-way battle between Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee; or even a four-way if one of the grassroots senators can make it into the primary.

With the election next year, I would suggest to intermittently start following the news, do research on the potential candidates, and most importantly, you may engage your American counterparts on these topics. Although I personally would not recommend starting a conversation on politics straight out of the blue, but if the occasion arises it’s always beneficial to have basic knowledge on said topic.

But at the same time, readers should know that politics ARE a sensitive subject to many Americans. As a foreign citizen living in the U.S., you should make every effort to not belittle or force a political belief upon others, because there is a high chance that can cause trouble or make enemies. Healthy discourse is valuable and a friendly banter or debate is recommended, but always be self-aware that you won’t actually vote come November 2016, even if the outcome does affect you.

Content Edited by Artricia Rasyid 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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Hario Priambodho
Hario graduated from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Mass Communications with a minor in History. Initially a Biology major, he soon found his true calling in writing, journalism, and photography. He is now a freelance writer and photographer based in Jakarta. Hario is passionate about movies, food, and traveling. He enjoys a whole host of topics to read and talk about: ranging from politics, history, sociology, to philosophy. Nicolas Cage is Hario's favorite actor because he's a loon. On downtime Hario enjoys listening to some classic rock with David Bowie, Velvet Underground, and Queen occupying a good chunk of his playlist.