Wednesday, February 10, 2016

5 Thoughts on the New Hampshire Primaries

And once again the presidential battle has been completely upended.  In what has been (truly, and not just in a cliched way) one of the strangest battles ever for the Democratic and Republican nominations, we saw yet another set of twisty turns, this time more because the winners ended up being who was expected (which wasn't quite the case in Iowa).  Here are five thoughts that most stick out to me after last night.

1. Donald Trump is Back

No one needed a win last night as much as Donald Trump.  The New York billionaire had suffered a crushing blow in Iowa, watching his numbers dwindle nationally and even in some cases in New Hampshire.  However, thanks to a deathblow against Marco Rubio from Chris Christie (more on that in a second), Trump managed to not only win the New Hampshire primary, he managed to do so against John Kasich of all people, a man with little money, name recognition, and whose campaign is hardly the stuff that even the establishment was hoping for.  Trump now heads into South Carolina not only with the wind to his back, but with the solid chance that he could pick up more voters from the hemorrhaging Carson campaign (who still has 8.7% of the vote according to Real Clear Politics, but I suspect that number is about to fall).  Trump now has a little bit of leeway (and has shown he can sustain a loss), but he also could be about to throw a death punch at a number of candidates, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, if he wins South Carolina.  Let's be clear-after last week Donald Trump's presidential aspirations were waning, but at this point they couldn't be brighter: he has a fractured establishment, huge leads in the polls, and a Democratic Party that looks deeply divided and potentially like they might be making a very risky choice in their nominee as well.

2. Bernie Sanders Becomes Real

It was highly expected that the Vermont senator would win the New Hampshire primaries, but his crushing defeat of Hillary Clinton was so remarkable that one wonders what the Democratic establishment is going to do about it in response.  Sanders will surely have a national rebound, perhaps even leading in some polls as a result of him being taken seriously, and so far the national media has been handling him with kid gloves, which I still don't think is going to change in the coming weeks despite what you may be reading (the media has no reason to rain on this parade just yet because it sells more clicks if Hillary Clinton is losing).  Additionally, unlike the Republicans (who head next to South Carolina), the Democrats head to Nevada where Sanders has a better shot at Clinton than when they get to the South and Clinton has the upper-hand.  It's now become increasingly apparent that Clinton has a real messaging problem and could have put her campaign at jeopardy by not taking Sanders seriously enough early on in the race.  Clinton still has to be considered the frontrunner due to her strong backing of older women and minority voters, but she's going to have to find a way to mobilize against a Sanders campaign that has found ways to win over young voters enough to make up the difference on election day.

3. So...John Kasich?

If there was a third winner last night (and really, there wasn't more than three unlike in Iowa) it was the Ohio governor, who basically got enough of a boost out of New Hampshire to continue his race into South Carolina.  The longtime Washington veteran seems like an odd fit for an electorate clamoring for an outsider, but Kasich technically fits the bill on the "establishment" front (he's a former congressman and governor of the quintessential swing state), but the biggest question here is whether or not he can translate his silver medal here into an actual win in another state, or whether he was some sort of electoral fluke.  I suspect that he'll have enough cash to make it through the next week, but whether or not he can sustain a win in New Hampshire when he has limited options for the next few weeks is a very large question mark.

4. Rubio, Bush, and Cruz

There are of course a few other candidates in the race, but most of them appear to be after-thoughts at this point.  Chris Christie may have made the biggest impact of the race if Marco Rubio's debate performance continues to hang over the contest costing the establishment their easy rallying point, but that will be it as he goes back to New Jersey and spends the rest of his life realizing that he should have run in 2012.  Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are almost to complete irrelevance at this point, and if I were them I'd suggest endorsing a candidate whose cabinet you think you could get into in short order before that endorsement seems pointless and you don't have any bartering power.  That being said, I suspect that Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz all stick around, though aside from Cruz (who has Iowa and a bevy of Southern states that he can rely upon), they head to South Carolina with a lot to prove.  Marco Rubio is no longer able to call himself the establishment choice after his embarrassing debate performance and John Kasich vastly outperforming him in the Granite State, but he still remains a potent force and a dramatic foil for Sanders or Clinton.  However, I suspect that, despite having the least air in his lungs, Jeb Bush may be in a better position than the media is giving him.  He still has money and infrastructure, and smells blood in the water with Rubio's debate performance (I anticipate that he'll go after him hard in the next debate, though Rubio will be far more prepared now), knowing that the establishment crown got a little more up-for-grabs after New Hampshire.

5. This Could Get Weird, Y'All

Honestly, it's not inconceivable that Donald Trump will be fighting against Bernie Sanders in the general election after last night.  The Republican establishment won't coalesce quickly, and even if they did it remains to be seen if Rubio, Bush, or Kasich are particularly solid candidates after major stumbles in recent weeks.  Hillary Clinton may have institutional advantages that will wear well even if the races remain close (I suspect that right now she's pushing hard for every superdelegate she can find to try and keep her inevitability aura out there), but her campaign has systemic issues and this is starting to look eerily similar to 2008.  Sanders v. Trump would be unparalleled in American history, two candidates of such profoundly different ideologies than their parties' previous candidates that it would invite everything from a very nasty election to viable third party runs.  I think that it's deeply questionable whether or not Michael Bloomberg would hurt Republicans or Democrats more, and I certainly think a different candidate would make a better third party option (considering the foreign policy gap both candidates have, I would assume a moderate former general paired with a moderate female former governor would be your best option), but considering his unlimited back account and his clear ambition for the job, I wouldn't discount Bloomberg as a third party candidate entirely.  Expect to hear his name a lot more in the coming weeks.

And there you have it-those are my thoughts-how about yours?  What do you think about the state of this very odd presidential race?

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