February 10, 2016

Trump, Sanders Ride Populist Wave

Bullet points on the New Hampshire primary.

The clear winners in New Hampshire Tuesday were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The two populists rode voter discontent to sizeable victories. Sanders, of course, had near home field advantage being from next-door Vermont. And Trump’s New York values obviously played well among a moderate electorate. Neither (“yuge”) win was surprising, so here are a few things that stood out on the GOP side (more on Sanders and the Democrats in Mark Alexander’s essay this afternoon).

  • Since the current primary format began in 1976, no Republican has lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to win the nomination. That said, 2016 is unlike any election cycle in memory, and our hope is that Trump joins Pat Buchanan (1996) and John McCain (2000) in the annals of Republicans who won New Hampshire and failed to become the nominee. Trump is running strong throughout the South, however, and he’s still the odds-on favorite.

  • Ted Cruz came in a surprising third after investing relatively little in doing well in a state with an electorate stacked against him. His showing only strengthens his position heading into the South.

  • Marco Rubio’s fifth-place finish could prove disastrous. Coming off his impressive showing in Iowa, falling behind John Kasich and Jeb Bush was obviously a huge disappointment for the Florida senator. Both governors will stay in the race, making the path forward harder for all three. Rubio’s debate gaffe — repeating memorized talking points in response to criticism for repeating memorized talking points — almost surely cost him dearly, even if vision matters more than experience. He admitted as much, telling supporters, “I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this: That will never happen again.”

  • John Kasich’s investment in the Granite State paid off with a second-place showing, though he still won less than half Trump’s share of the vote. Given that the Ohio governor so far spent most of his resources in New Hampshire, the question now is where he goes from here. He doesn’t poll strongly in any of the upcoming primary states (especially in the South) and has virtually no national campaign organization. Team Kasich should enjoy the attention while it lasts, because this is probably the high-water mark of his bid.

  • Jeb Bush continues to be the “not dead yet” candidate. He not only accomplished what he had to in order to stay alive — beating Rubio — but he’s got a bit of momentum heading to South Carolina, which is a state very friendly to the Bush family. He’s also got money, even after outspending Cruz 30 to 1 in New Hampshire. So as he had to instruct an audience recently, “please clap.”

  • Chris Christie put all his marbles into performing well in New Hampshire and all he could muster was 7.5%, good for sixth place. He didn’t benefit from his debate broadside against Rubio. And instead of heading to South Carolina, he’s dropping out of the race entirely. Destroy Rubio, help Kasich and Trump. Almost as good as an Obama hug.

  • Carly Fiorina’s terrific debate performances didn’t translate into actual votes, and she too has suspended her campaign.

  • Ben Carson didn’t even wait for the results before flying to South Carolina. Jim Gilmore won 130 votes, which is less laughable than the 12 he secured in Iowa. Both men should head for the exits with Christie and Fiorina.

In the end, New Hampshire provided some clarity in the race, but not much — in fact, it may have done the opposite. At least five candidates will move on, and a protracted battle looms. The biggest problem is that the circular firing squad may prove to be the party’s undoing in November in what should have been a “gimme” election.

(Updated with news of Christie’s and Fiorina’s exits.)

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