The media’s new focus on Donald Trump’s “ground game” in New Hampshire is a classic case of general’s fighting the last war.
Given the inadequacies of the Trump’s voter targeting and turn-out operation, his strong second place finish in Iowa shows his spontaneous natural strength and appeal. The Iowa Caucus, however, is a narrow and relatively small contest dominated by evangelical Christians. There is a premium on targeting voter contact and turn out.
New Hampshire is a far different animal. There is a greater tradition of voting in the Republican primary with a more diverse electorate, including more Catholics and mainstream Protestant yankees. The New Hampshire primary is more media-driven. They always reject the advice of their Iowa brethren. While organization is not unimportant, it is less important. How the candidates conduct themselves post-Iowa is key. The process is media driven; Bush beat Dole here only after getting owners of WMUR-TV to put on a last minute spot labeling Dole as a taxer to run thru the final three days.
Ronald Reagan, who lost the Iowa caucus to George Bush after skipping the last Iowa debate (sound familiar?) did not rebound against a surging Bush due to having a superior “ground game.” He rebounded because he destroyed a pedantic Bush in a pre-primary debate. That is why the debate Saturday night is crucial.
This debate and each candidate’s performance in it will decide which candidate will be the nominee. The winner of New Hampshire will win South Carolina and the Republican nomination, although a Trump-Rubio clash in the Palmetto state seems in the offing.
There is no question that a last minute maneuver by the Cruz team, planting a false story that Ben Carson was getting out of the race and urging Carson voters to switch to Cruz, has tainted the Corn State results enough that Cruz got little bounce. It adds to the image of Cruz as slippery, slick, and well… tricky. At the same time, it would be a mistake for Trump to spend too much time excoriating Cruz or crying crocodile tears for Carson, who only weeks ago he compared to a child molester.
Trump must return to the core issues that put him way, way out front: sealing our borders, building the wall, recharging our economy, addressing trade imbalances, taking care of our veterans, and destroying ISIS. He should talk about the Trump tax plan, praised by supply side guru Larry Kudlow. We know Trump is very, very rich; we want to hear how he would make us rich.
The rise of Rubio is very real, but Trump must dispatch Cruz as a viable candidate before he can face-off with Rubio, who will continue to be a factor in the Palmetto state. Rubio is gaining 3% a night in polls I have seen, and Trump leveled of after dropping 4% to sit on a modest lead. Rubio could supercharge this trend with a strong debate performance.
I really believe Trump has the strongest cross-over appeal of any candidate. Because he is unaligned with either major party leadership, he can criticize both parties, thereby winning independents. Trump’s pro-growth message is inspirational. Credible polls have him running substantially ahead of where Romney and McCain finished among African-Americans, showing inroads in the traditionally Democratic bloc. Trump can pull white working class Democrats who voted for Obama.
When I heard Senator Rand Paul’s bungling of the Clinton sex scandal question in the last debate, I wanted to puke. Trump will take the fight to Hillary like no other Republican candidate. Trump should fire on Hillary and then Obama, who visited a Mosque with a long record of ties to terrorist groups.
Saturday night will be epic.