The US primary season is well and truly on, with the first candidate selection events, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, having occurred and given whatever shape they would to the campaign. 2016 happens to be an ‘open’ year, as the incumbent President is not contesting, and thus both parties are seeking a presidential nominee

It is perhaps symptomatic that the nomination process, which will culminate in nominating conventions in summer, has already claimed victims on both sides, in the shape of withdrawn candidacies. The Republicans and Democrats began with frontrunners. Both parties had candidates with pedigree. The Democrats had Hilary Clinton, the wife of an ex-President, and as an ex-Senator and ex-Secretary of State, with the right type of experience for the office. The Republicans had Jeb Bush, son and younger brother of ex-Presidents, himself an ex-governor. At this moment, neither is the party’s frontrunner, with Jeb Bush about to have his candidacy fold at any time, elbowed aside by Donald Trump, the New Yorker real state millionaire, who has come in second in Iowa and won in New Hampshire.

Ms Clinton was more clearly expected to be her party’s nominee, for she had run before in 2008, when she had been beaten for the

Democratic nomination by current incumbent Barack Obama, who made her his first Secretary of State, an office she left in 2012, and even then was widely assumed to be preparing for a presidential run in 2016.

However, a race which was heading to titanic bipartisan battle after the primaries were ritually undergone has become two races for the nomination. This reflects the fact that candidates have to begin campaigning earlier and earlier to have a chance. Even winning the party nomination is no guarantee of victory, with the Democrat Al Gore coming achingly close in 2000, actually winning the popular vote, losing only on the electoral vote. Another factor is money. Campaigns needs money to keep running, not all of it paying for campaign pollsters or political consultants, or even for TV advertising. Campaigns have to fund the printing of banners and the feeding of polling agents. Money flows only to candidates who can win. Early victories in primaries indicate a candidate is striking a chord with voters, will be the party’s next nominee, and may well be the next President. As the saying goes, everyone loves a winner. Especially donors. Early success means a candidate is given the wherewithal to campaign for the rest of the campaign season.

Going by that standard, the real election is going to be between Trump and Sanders. In that event, it seems that the ultimate winner would be the one who does least to lose the election, because both are apparently wildly unsuitable. Both represent extreme tendencies within their respective parties. Sanders in particular deserves watching. Is he going to represent a lurch leftwards, a trend started by the victory of the Socialist François Hollande in the French presidential election, and which will continue if the Labour Party comes to power in the UK in the next general election, due by May 2020, and the Social Democratic Party in Germany, in elections due by 2017. It is worth remembering that the two are presently ruled by the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats respectively.

In the USA, the pendulum is due to swing away from the Democrats. Not since 1932-52 (Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman) has a President of one party been succeeded by another of the same for two terms. Indeed, the only time since then that there has not been an alternation of parties was when the older Bush, then vice-president, won in 1988, on the coattails of an immensely popular President, Ronald Reagan. But then, he lost in 1992 to set up an alternation that has gone through three presidents since.

By that count, the Republican candidate, even if Donald Trump, should win. Again, he is an outsider, never having held office before, and staking his claim to office on is having run a real-estate empire before. It is interesting that Trump, a New Yorker, is aiming to win that state, which has the second-most votes in the electoral college. One of the disadvantages that Republican presidential candidates face is that the Democrats have an edge in California and New York, which have the two highest votes in the electoral college. The USA does not have a direct presidential election, in which the votes cast for each candidate are just totaled, with whoever gets the most votes wins.

Every state is allocated electoral votes equal to the number of its members of Congress (that is, congressmen plus senators), and whoever wins the popular vote in the state, be it by a single vote, wins all the state’s electoral votes. That is why one can have a result like 2000, when the younger Bush lost the popular vote, but won in the electoral college. It was also the first occasion that anyone who lost both New York and California, still won the election. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan from Californians, to get the favourite-son advantage there. It seems Trump aims to get that advantage, this time for New York. True, Nixon had been elected to the senate, and Reagan governor, but both were statewide elections, and in that respect, the momentum has swung east, with Sanders belonging to New York before shifting to New Hampshire, and Clinton having been elected a Senator from the state. Trump belongs to the state too.

Sanders is Jewish, calling himself a ‘secular Jew’, and is married to a Roman Catholic. He is strongly supportive of Israel, for all that he is a progressive. Trump pitches an appeal to the Christian right wing, something which has become even more necessary as the primaries approach states like South Carolina and Nevada, which will not of themselves determine the winner, but should serve to strengthen any trends that may be emerging.

Pakistan has traditionally looked with greater favour upon Republicans, because it has seen Democrats as too inclined to favouring India. However, two Republican trends must be noted: first, the looming larger of Israel, not just because they can raise more money, but because the religious right has so many Christian Zionists in its ranks; and second, the increasing antagonism to China. Israel is not just a Pakistani bugbear because of Palestine, but because it has slowly but surely built ties with India. Pakistan has befriended China too. A third Republican trend, Islamophobia, with Trump wanting a ban on Muslims entering the USA, only strengthens this.

With the Republicans likelier than not to continue the US swing to India, there seems no reason to go on trying to curry US favour. It should also be remembered that Indians in the USA are towards the right, which means that they naturally gravitate to the Republican Party. It is no coincidence that an Indian-American, Bobby Jindal, ran for the Republican nomination (albeit unsuccessfully) the year after the BJP came to power in India. The BJP is important because it has strong support among Indians in the USA.

The primary season has just begun, and it does seem too early to predict a winner even for the party nominations. However, whoever wins, Pakistan should expect neither support nor favours.