Adelaide Advertiser

By Jackson Gothe-Snape Self-proclaimed billionaire and reality TV star Donald Trump was the latest candidate to announce this week that he would run for US President in the 2016 election.

He promised to "make America great again" at the announcement in - where else - the halls of Trump Tower, his New York skyscraper.

But in the kooky world of US politics, commentators predict he may pull out of the race within four months, still more than one year out from election day.

Mr Trump's potential withdrawal is just one of the intricacies in the lavish, protracted US election tradition.

And as the nation gears up for one of the most open presidential races in history, political observers and US expats in Australia are keeping a close watch.

It promises to be no ordinary election, with President Barack Obama stepping down after reaching the constitutional maximum of two terms in office.

Vice-President Joe Biden looks unlikely to run for the top job. Within the Oval Office, a power vacuum looms.

Associate professor Brendon O'Connor from the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney said the dynamics would create entertainment and excitement.

"We've got a really open election," he said. "The more open it is, the less predictable it is, the more dramatic it is in the early stages." Already 16 candidates have put up their hands, including a dozen Republicans. By the end of the year that might hit 20.

Prof O'Connor describes the field, particularly on the Republican side, as "much stronger" than in previous campaigns.

There are women and men. Ex-governors and governors. Ex-senators and senators. People whose skin is white and people whose skin is black. Contenders and pretenders.

And then there is Mr Trump.

The man most famous for telling reality TV show contestants "you're fired" on The Apprentice has flirted with running for the Republican nomination several times.

But this week he took the plunge, declaring "ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for President of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again".

"Sadly the American dream is dead, but if I get elected President I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before," he boasted.

On both the Republican and Democrat side of politics, candidates must win over the members of their own parties in order to secure its nomination for President.

For each side, each state holds a vote - called either a caucus or a primary - to identify a preferred candidate.

These votes begin at the start of next year, most famously in Iowa and New Hampshire.

After nominations are finalised, a nationwide ballot is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to decide the presidency, giving just enough time for the candidates to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on election campaigns.

Mr Trump is unlikely to win the Republican nomination.

According to bookmakers, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or (yet to declare) Scott Walker will almost certainly outlast him.

The debate around Mr Trump is whether he will even make it to next year.

By then US ethics laws will have demanded he, like the other presidential candidates, disclose a breakdown of wealth.

But for Mr Trump - whose brand relies on his self-proclaimed US$8.7 billion in assets and the aura around his success - that may prove an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

Prof O'Connor described the Republican field as strong, based on the experience of candidates and their appeal to the US public.

However, outside Mr Bush, Mr Rubio, Mr Walker, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee, he said, "there's a pack of rejects and losers and people who are there for the self-gratification and self-aggrandisement, like Donald Trump".

If one of these Republican candidates ultimately claims the presidency, they will uphold conservative values at home.

Their effect on international relations is harder to predict, believes Prof O'Connor.

"Over time, the Republicans have become less and less like the centre right in the rest of the world," he said, pointing out their anti-abortionist stance and opposition to gay marriage.

"We're not likely to see a repeat of the invasion of Iraq because that's a once-in-ageneration disaster, but they have differences that people have become more and more aware of outside America." The field is much smaller on the Democrat side partly because Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and wife of former US President Bill Clinton, is the clear favourite.

With a duel between fabled political families Clinton and Bush a likely outcome, Prof O'Connor said that the power of money in US politics had "really got out of hand" and name recognition and connections made up a significant part of success.

"The amount of money flowing in to really pollute the airwaves of American politics with people's ideas just based on how much money they've got is a real problem," he said.

Prof O'Connor said the campaigns became a sort of therapy for Americans.

"They're constantly being told how great their nation is, how exceptional it is, how it's not in decline," he said. "A lot of it looks symbolic to me." As a dual Australian-American citizen, Todd St Vrain, chairman of Democrats Abroad in Australia and local resident since 2002, can vote in elections in both of his home countries.

He said most expat Americans weren't engaged until the actual primaries but he was an exception.

"With the rise of social media it's much easier to keep informed," he said.

His organisation aims to secure as many international Democrat votes as it can, as well as lobbying US politicians to improve expatriate life such as by simplifying international income reporting laws.

While election day is still more than a year away, he said watching from Australia would actually be more exciting than if he were back at home.

He said many of his peers even took the day off work to enjoy the results trickling in through the afternoon.

"The viewing (time) is perfect, as people in the United States have to stay up late into the night to get the results," he said.

Mr St Vrain said that moving overseas had given him a new perspective on US politics and a desire to contribute, leading to his involvement with Democrats Abroad.

"This is a way to show that I really care about my country," he said.

This article originally appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser.