On the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire Primaries, Granite State voters sent a sizzling rebuke to the nation’s political establishment by casting a solid majority of ballots for Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican businessman Donald Trump of New York.
The Trump and Sanders vote combined accounted for at least 50 percent of all ballots.
Add divisive maverick Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas—who finished third—to the mix, and the number of New Hampshire voters’ rejecting the political status quo rises to 55 percent.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio—fifth place—occupied a curious place in this calculus of revolt.
Rubio is a Tea Partier, so his percent of the vote theoretically goes in the “just-say-no” column, bringing the rejectionist total to a whopping 61 percent.
There is, however, a paradox.
GOP insiders see Rubio as less dangerous, threatening, and obnoxious than Trump and Cruz.
That may be true.
But being the cuddly trophy-son in the dysfunctional family of 21st-century Republicanism is challenging.
By shrewdly leveraging his resources, Rubio finished third in Iowa -- to widespread acclaim. His lack of a serious ground game in New Hampshire clearly cost him. And while the fallout from his robotic debate performance is hard to measure, it cannot have done him any good. Witness Rubio’s five-point decline from his pre-debate standing to his primary night finish.
Rubio’s future is not as unpromising as that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the man who laid him low; but it’s questionable. The would-be boy wonder is on double-secret probation.
Before his disappointing finish, Rubio was unapologetic about his debate malfunction. Afterward, he was a beaming self-flagellant: “I did not do well on Saturday night. That will never happen again.” It is a safe bet that Rubio was talking directly to future donors.
What remains of the Republican establishment was hoping Rubio would place second. Instead, former senator and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich won that spot. This was Tuesday night’s significant surprise.
Kasich is an outwardly genial guy with deep reserves of intestinal fortitude. Three years ago, the conservative National Review put Kasich on its cover as a reasonable—but long shot—GOP candidate for president. That was then, this is now.
Today the pitchfork brigades see Kasich, who is a classic Reagan Republican, as a RINO—a Republican In Name Only.
The GOP has swung so far to the right that Tea Partier Rubio is perceived as a moderate, while Kasich looms as a dangerous left-winger, a wink and a nod away from socialism—or worse.
If Kasich has managed the makings of a rebound, is fourth-place finisher former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush close to staging a resurrection? Too soon to tell. But in the last several days, Bush finally appeared to energize himself, to shake of the burdens of legacy, to enjoy the contest. In the process, Bush connected: with voters, with the press, perhaps with himself. The question, of course: Too little, too late?
In terms of national prospects, the odds against Kasich and Bush remain long.
The South Carolina Republican Primary (February 20) is the next major contest. Trump goes into the state a favorite, followed by Cruz, Rubio, and Bush.
South Carolina is as stalwart as New Hampshire is quirky. As of Tuesday night, Kasich is projected to be a footnote in South Carolina.
Fortifying the anti-establishment trend represented by the Trump and Sanders victories is the fact that turnout was one of the heaviest in history, perhaps the heaviest. (Ten percent of the vote remained to be counted when this story was posted at 4 a.m.)
It's certainly the highest since 2008, when voters awarded then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton a stunning -- if narrow -- upset over then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.
When Sanders tied Clinton in the Iowa caucuses two weeks ago, the headlines were about the almost 50/50 split. Now they document a romp, with Sanders winning by an estimated 22 points. The assumption had been for weeks, even months, that Sanders would win. But inside expectations were that Clinton would narrow the gap.
If Sanders were to win the Nevada Democratic caucus on February 20, the alarm bells for the Clinton campaign would begin to toll in earnest. And there is some evidence that the Clinton campaign is trying to dial back expectations. That is, in and of itself, a smart tactical move.
Seven days later, South Carolina holds its Democratic primary where the presence of a large African-American population should bolster Clinton.
March 1 is Super Tuesday when 13 states—including Massachusetts—go to the polls to award 56 percent of the delegates to the Democratic convention. Clinton’s advisers see that date as the day of deliverance from the scourge of Bernie-ism.