Riding an anti-establishment wave — the magnitude of which would put the NorCal surf contest Mavericks to shame — Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump scored their first victories of the 2016 presidential campaign in New Hampshire Tuesday night.
The wins may have been expected, based on recent polling. But take a step back, and these results are astonishing: A year ago, victories by the bumptious Trump and the socialist Sanders over the respective heirs of the Bush and Clinton dynasties were, frankly, unimaginable.
If Trump charged to victory with the advantage of a private jet and endless free press, Sanders built his win on pocket-change contributions — and despite a near blackout by the national media. As former Mitt Romney adviser Stuart Stevens tweeted with admiration Tuesday night: “I’m not a @BernieSanders guy, but to go from obscure socialist [senator] of tiny state to this is one hell of a thing. All credit due to him & his team.”
Sanders and Trump may come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both candidates spoke to the same voter discontent in their victory speeches on Tuesday night.
For his part, Sanders put the “political establishment,” the “economic establishment” and “oh yeah, the media establishment” on notice, declaring his victory would “echo from Wall Street to Washington, Maine to California” — and prove that the political system belongs to ordinary people, not to “campaign contributors and their Super PACs.”
“Do we love our country!?” Trump posed to a raucous crowd. Echoing Sanders’ anger at the system, Trump took aim at “political hacks” and the campaign-funding “special interests — lobbyist” who “don’t love our country.” Playing up his business acumen, Trump promised, instead, “We’re going to make deals for the American people, again.”
With blowout victories in both party primaries, the horserace drama Tuesday centered around the Republican also-rans: Ohio Gov. John Kasich secured distant second place — besting a sad-sack trio of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and the night’s biggest loser, Marco Rubio.
What really went down in New Hampshire on election night?
Here’s what you need to know:
New Hampshire was feeling the Bern?
That’s putting it mildly. The Granite State was on fire for Sanders, who won with nearly 60 percent of the Democratic vote, finishing more than 20 points ahead of Clinton.
For Sanders, the linchpin was youth support — he carried voters under 30 by a margin of 83-16. But, improving on his results from Iowa, Sanders also won among every demographic in the exit polls, except for voters over 65 and those with incomes over $200,000.
Despite the Clinton campaign’s explicit appeals to women voters in the last week — including surrogate Madeleine Albright’s controversial suggestion that women who failed to back Hillary were reserving a for themselves a “special place in hell” — New Hampshire women cast their ballots for Bernie, favoring Sanders 55-44.
Was there any good news for Clinton?
It’s hard to sugarcoat this. New Hampshire was a shellacking. Clinton was expected to lose by a good margin — meaning she might have claimed, if not victory, at least momentum by closing the gap. And she had a history of winning over late-deciding voters in New Hampshire: In 2008, Granite Staters decided she was more than “likeable enough” — to borrow Barack Obama’s unfortunate phrase — and delivered Clinton a stunning comeback victory.
But on Tuesday night, Clinton did not chip into Sanders’ lead, and instead lost by nearly 50,000 votes. Worse, the exit polls underscored her greatest political vulnerability: Those seeking an honest and trustworthy candidate favored Sanders 91-5.
No silver lining — at all?
There are few moral victories in politics, but Clinton did receive nearly as many votes as Trump in New Hampshire. Clinton also delivered a strong concession speech — mixing strength with new humility. She turned the page on a tough night by promising a spirited fight on behalf of her fellow underdogs.
What does is mean, politically?
Clinton needs a victory, and quick. It’s hard to run as the more electable candidate if you keep losing to the other guy.
But the next Democratic contest — Nevada, on February 20 — could be trouble. It’s a caucus state, where grassroots energy matters. Nevada is far more diverse than Iowa or New Hampshire, but caucus participation is historically whiter than the population at large — perhaps favoring Sanders. Clinton has been leading in Nevada, but Sanders’ new momentum could turn the Silver State a tossup. The Clinton camp is already lowering expectations.
This sets up the South Carolina primary, on February 27, as a pivotal contest. Clinton has been leading there by more than 30 points on the strength of African American support. Will Clinton’s “firewall” hold? Can Sanders sell his democratic socialist platform to a more diverse electorate?
It’s gonna be fun to find out.
Anything else I need to know?
Tuesday was — it should not be overlooked — a historic night: Sanders became the first Jewish candidate to ever win a presidential primary.
Trump won. Give it to me straight: How bad is this?
Not good. One statistic tells the story of the Trump victory: 64 percent of GOP voters told exit pollsters they support the billionaire’s bigoted proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
Overall, Trump won going away. He more than doubled the votes of his nearest competitor. And he won every meaningful demographic, according to the exit poll. Trump did best among voters with no college degree and those earning under $50,000. But he also won easily among educated voters and those making $200,000. Remarkably, Trump’s support was nearly identical among self-described “moderate,” “somewhat conservative” and “very conservative” voters.
Unlike in the Iowa caucus, where his lack of a sophisticated ground game hurt him badly, Trump turned out voters in the New Hampshire primary in line with his poll numbers — suggesting that, going forward, Trump can convert his star power into convention delegates.
Tuesday night left little doubt: Donald Trump is, truly, the Republican frontrunner.
What’s the good news? I need some good news.
Trump won with just 35 percent of the vote. That’s good news in the sense that there’s majority support in the GOP for Not Trump. The bad news is that this support remains balkanized among at least four well-funded candidates — who are now all likely to hang around for a while.
What happened to Rubio?
Rubio’s debate meltdown — in which he robotically repeated the same talking point as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie mocked him for it in real time — appears to have cost the Florida senator, gravely.
After a third-place finish in Iowa, Rubio had momentum. A second place finish in New Hampshire could have helped clear the field and given him running room against Trump and Ted Cruz. Instead, Ohio Gov. John Kasich came in second Tuesday night — emerging as the top choice of late-deciding voters.
Rubio finished mired in fifth place, narrowly behind Cruz and even Jeb Bush.
(To his credit, Rubio owned the debate lapse and disappointing New Hampshire finish, tweeting, “Our disappointment tonight is not on you. It’s on me. I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this, that will never happen again.”)
Does this make Kasich a contender?
Kasich looks like a one-state wonder. But he’ll get money out of this second-place showing, and he’s likely to try to stay in the game at least until the winner-take-all primary in Ohio in mid-March.
What does the New Hampshire result mean, politically?
The “first in the South” primary in South Carolina is the next contest — looming on February 20th for the GOP. In the latest polls, Trump has a big lead over a divided field. Barring another game-changing debate, South Carolina projects to be another easy win for the Donald, and another fierce battle for second place among the scrum of Not Trumps.
THE INDEPENDENT IN THE WINGS
What’s this I hear about Bloomberg?
The rise of two anti-establishment candidates in the major parties is tempting former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to throw his hat in the ring as an independent — a move that could scramble an already crazy political cycle.
Bloomberg confirmed he’s weighing a bid in an interview this week with the Financial Times.
What’s the logic?
Bloomberg sees himself as the establishment uniter — the corporation-friendly technocrat who combines social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, and can unite the establishment wings of both parties to defend against the chaotic forces of populism.
Could he win?
It’s never safe to bet against a man worth $37 billion.