New Hampshire Offers Perfect Snapshot of Crazy Primary Season

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks at her primary night party February 9, 2016 at Southern New Hampshire University in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Pundits sometimes grumble that giving the unusual states of Iowa and New Hampshire outsized influence on the presidential nominating process doesn’t make sense.

Both states have acquitted themselves very well in 2016, perfectly capturing the flavor of a crazy primary season. You’d have to bring Jackson Pollack back to paint a better picture of the race than what New Hampshire offered.

On the Democrat side, Hillary Clinton’s flameout left the candidate giving an even shriller, angrier, more robotic concession speech than the one she belted out after kinda-sorta-maybe winning Iowa. (Her Iowa speech retains novelty value as a rare example of the nominal “winner” giving what was clearly a concession speech, right down to her hilarious posturing as an underdog rescued from defeat by the grace of Iowa voters.)

Razz Marco Rubio as “robotic” all you want, but Hillary Clinton is a Pez dispenser of talking points whose speeches are mostly just laundry lists of all the special interests she promises to fight for.

Bernie Sanders walloped Clinton in every demographic except geriatric feminists.  

Younger women seemed genuinely offended by Clinton’s crude gender politics, with her Maude Squad of feminist dinosaurs (thanks to my friend Chris Stigall for coming up with that absolutely perfect name this morning!) literally telling them to go to hell for supporting Sanders. With that incredibly tone-deaf move, Clinton made herself the face of what Sanders promises a revolution against.  

Exit polling said the Democrat primary was almost entirely a question of trust, with Sanders seen as more honest and trustworthy than Clinton by over ninety percent of Democrat voters in some exit polls. Clinton tried to laugh off her email scandal and Clinton Foundation corruption stories… but they’re arguably the major reason she’s losing so badly to Sanders.

Nothing is working for Hillary.  

Bill and Chelsea are proving to be outright liabilities on the campaign trail, her loyal retainers in the media are themselves facing an epic crisis of public trust (while fighting their natural urge to be swept up in the romantic adventure of the Sanders campaign), her scandals won’t go away, and her surrogates have all the charm of fingernails on a blackboard.  

Her only consolation is that it’s still her race to lose. If she doesn’t get indicted, the automated machinery of the Democrat Party is still highly likely to deliver the nomination to her… and she’ll be a weaker general-election candidate than ever, because much of the Democrat base will be angrily wondering how the candidate nobody liked or trusted somehow beat the socialist heartthrob from Vermont, after he made history in Iowa and New Hampshire.  

Over on the Republican side, the Establishment Lane was still a demolition derby, with Chris Christie broadsiding Marco Rubio and sending both of their campaigns flying over the guard rails.  

Rubio actually apologized for the debate faceplant that might just have cost him the nomination, which is a nice human touch from a candidate whose humanity was called into question, but he’s going to have a tough time getting back into the race.  

Much of the Republican primary is shaped by fears of candidate implosion during the general, and haunting memories of the last campaign, where the guy who was right about everything somehow managed to lose to President Solyndra. GOP voters will now be plagued by nightmares of a Rubio core dump during an intense general election campaign.

It’s probably a bit early to declare Rubio’s problems insurmountable, but the bottom line is that he desperately needed a big win – something like the stunning second-place finish he seemed on track for, until that last debate – in order to clear out the Establishment Lane. He really needed to put Jeb Bush away in New Hampshire, so any other outcome had to be scored as a Rubio loss.  

In the end, Bush came out of New Hampshire reinvigorated, with everything he needs to convince big GOP donors that he can still outlast all the other Establishment-friendly names and become the last man standing against Donald Trump and/or Ted Cruz. It’s now difficult to see a scenario where Bush gets out early enough for Rubio to consolidate the Establishment vote, and frankly the reverse seems more likely at this moment.

John Kasich had the self-described “Kasich Lane” all to himself, and it turned out to have a pretty high speed limit in New Hampshire, but it’s not an interstate highway. New Hampshire was a stunt for Kasich, a one-off that took enormous effort on his part, but accomplished little in the long run except blocking off the Establishment Lane and giving Trump and Cruz more room to maneuver.

Trump managed the neat trick of making a victory everyone expected still seem exciting.  He outperformed his poll numbers, put lingering disappointment from Iowa behind him, made it clear he’s a serious contender for the nomination, and gathered momentum going into the next races.

As for Cruz, his performance in New Hampshire is another amazing achievement he won’t get credit for, much as his Iowa win was eclipsed by hyperventilating over Rubio coming in third. Cruz wasn’t supposed to stand a chance in New Hampshire. He spent only a little over half a million dollars in the state, which works out to $18 for every vote he got… compared to $508 for Rubio and $1,200 for Bush.

Trump spent $40 a vote, which the hard-charging deal-maker would doubtless proclaim an excellent price.  

He’s still dogged by criticism that he hasn’t built an effective network in the early primary states (although he cheerfully declared he “learned a lot about ground games in one week” after Iowa) so it’s fair to say he and Cruz pulled their votes mostly by being themselves. Trump’s act did even better than expected, while Cruz was supposed to flop, but didn’t.  

In different ways, Trump, Cruz, and Sanders are benefiting not just from “outsider” cachet, but because they project sincerity to an electorate weary of spin, scandal, and incompetence.

Yes, Donald Trump projects sincerity to his voters. Perhaps the greatest mistake of his detractors has been underestimating that factor. It’s why so many Trump supporters are untroubled by the shifting policy statements that drive pundits bonkers. They believe Trump sincerely loves his country and wants to… well, just read what it says on his hat. Even his legendary battles against political correctness are about sincerity: saying what you really mean, in an age of campus crybullies, militant speech police, and politically-correct padded cells.  

New Hampshire told us that sincerity rules this election.  

People are tired of phonies. Different groups of voters smell B.S. coming from different places, but everyone can agree the stench is pervasive. Two decades after her husband clung to power by tricking Americans into thinking character doesn’t matter, Hillary Clinton is getting trounced in an election where character is all that matters to many voters.  

Democrat voters, in turn, will soon discover they don’t matter very much to the Party machine. Hopefully that will teach them a valuable lesson about the true nature of the centralized power they foolishly worship.


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