Mister Tee wrote:But keep in mind that a number of similar candidates -- Kasich, Christie, Bush -- have been working NH steadily, and, in current polling, no one of them stands out as more likely to vacuum up all the establishment votes available. It's just as possible Kasich has a breakthrough...in which case Rubio's gamble will have given him only one night's bragging rights.
Thought I’d highlight that from last week, to prove I sometimes see the future with clarity.
“The voters of New Hampshire are saying loud and clear that they’re angry, and want nothing to do with the establishments of both parties.“ I heard someone say that last night, and it rang a quick bell: it was almost word for word what I heard Mike Barnicle say the night of the NH primary in 2000. That was the night John McCain trounced GWBush for the GOP, and initial exit polls indicated Bill Bradley was going to slip past Al Gore on the Dem side. To Barnicle, it meant that the country just wanted to “take a shower” and wash off its disgust with the Clinton administration and all of Washington.
The first thing to say about that is, Gore actually ended up winning the primary, by a sliver. The second is that both he and Bush recovered extremely quickly from this supposedly devastating uprising, nailing down their nominations with ease by mid-March. New Hampshire is of course cemented into the political calendar as our first primary – they’d move it up two years if they had to, to hold onto the slot. But the state is more quirky than illustrative: it seems to me the residents were born pissed off, and they’re always “sending a message” by making some offbeat pick, not many of which have gone onto the presidency. (In fact, I believe George HW Bush ‘88 is the last non-incumbent to win NH and go on to take the Fall election.)
New Hampshire was just about designer-created for a Sanders candidacy. It’s, like Iowa before it, 95% white, with more Democrats who describe themselves as “very liberal” than all but a handful of states. Its large independent bloc has long tended to reward cool/youth-appealing campaigns, even those with little broad support (McCarthy and McGovern came from nowhere back in the day, and it was, by far, Bradley’s strongest showing in 2000). The state’s also been kind to neighboring New Englanders – Dukakis in ’88, Tsongas in ’92, Kerry in ’04. According to David Wasserman at Cook Political Report, Sanders won towns along the VT/NH border by 70-80% margins; that’s what you call home-field advantage. I’m not going to dismiss the size of Sanders’ margin – it was well at the outside of his campaign’s hopes. But I’m still going to wait for results from a state less tilted his way before deciding Hillary’s in any trouble. Put it this way: if West Virginia and South Carolina had been the first two primaries, I don’t think we’re having the breathless “how can Hillary save herself?” conversations that MSNBC, god help us, is running non-stop. Hillary has to wait 10 days for another contest, and even there – in Nevada – it’s only neutral-ground, not hugely Hillary-tilting. If she can stagger through that without serious damage (except among the chattering classes), she’ll have SC on the 27th and a ton of states that lean her way on March 1st. I still think she has a chance to win relative comfort.
Final note on the Dems: exit polls said 78% of NH Dem voters would be happy with a Sanders candidacy, and 64% would be happy with Hillary (even while not choosing her this night). So the murmurs you’re hearing about Bernie supporters thinking Hillary’s no different from the GOP, or Hillary folk thinking Sanders is Lenin, are just belches from loud outliers.
As to the Republicans…
They are not long, the days of wine and roses. For a full week, Republican poohbahs were able to comfort themselves that Trump wouldn’t turn his poll numbers into voters, and that One Moderate (name of Rubio) Would Rule Them All and save the party from a crazy nominee.
This was of course before Rubio’s Mr. Roboto act last Saturday – the most astonishing own-goal I’ve ever seen a candidate engineer. I’ve witnessed gaffes before, but usually they’re things that aren’t that big a deal in and of themselves that get turned (by the press) into killing moments by hype and repetition (Muskie’s tears, Dean’s scream). This, though, was something you couldn’t believe while it was happening: he not only illustrated Christie’s talking point by repeating the same phrase: when Christie called him on it, he did it AGAIN. It was so bad even his most loyal supporters – the campaign press corps – found it impossible not to crucify him for it. Even with that, had he performed credibly last night – if he’d got Kasich’s numbers – there’d have been a sweep under the rug, “the voters don’t care about it like the press does” attempt. But his fifth (!) place finish said the voters did care. GOP analyst Steve Schmidt thinks he’s beyond recovery.
But it’s hard to say what was the worst news for the GOP last night: that Trump lived up to his polling (surpassed it, even) and won easily; that Cruz, who barely contested the state, finished third, making him not just the Iowa evangelical guy, but potentially a strong national GOP contender; or the fact that the so-called moderate lane got, if anything, more confusing. I guess I’d have to vote for the last. If the GOP hope was to pick one and discard the rest from that Establishment group, they only got the opposite: they cut one (Christie – who leaves a hero for having slain Rubio), but left three guys – Kasich, Bush, Rubio – still fighting for what is already a minority in the party (they were about 40-45% in NH, but are closer to 30-35% nationwide). Kasich was, from the point of view of the opposition (i.e., me) the ideal person to do best, because he has very little in the way of financial resources, and a profile that fits few if any states nearly as well it does NH…but, because he’s the “winner” of that slot in NH, he’ll definitely stay in/compete and siphon off votes from the other two – Bush and Rubio – who have their own very well publicized problems. It’s not impossible one of those last two could revive what seem sinking hopes with a strong run in the Southern primaries…but that’ll be a lot harder to do when they have to cut and slash one another (plus Kasich) just to, probably, secure third place.
The other interesting element to watch is whether Cruz makes a real charge at Trump. Trump has pretty strong poll leads throughout the South, but he may be hobbled by the closed nature of many of those primaries. Trump, like Sanders, beefed up his NH lead with a ton of non-party independents; that won’t be an option for him in most places, which require party registration as prerequisite for voting. I don’t underestimate the possibility of Cruz winning his share of those primaries, and the race devolving into Cruz v. Trump most of the way to the convention. And, if either Bush or Rubio – or Kasich, to be fair – gets a firm hold as Establishment Option, we could see votes split three ways for months. Which could actually take us to that mythical unicorn, The Brokered Convention.
All this in just two contests. We’ve got a pretty interesting year going.