Against the Grain

Chaos Wins Republican Primary in New Hampshire

The middle of the pack may have to chase Trump all the way to Cleveland.

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump takes the stage to speak to supporters during a primary night rally, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H.
AP Photo/David Goldman
Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
Feb. 9, 2016, 11:48 p.m.

Don­ald Trump’s re­sound­ing vic­tory in New Hamp­shire not only ce­men­ted the busi­ness­man’s stand­ing as a front-run­ning GOP can­did­ate. The crowded un­der­card battle for second place was as con­sequen­tial, en­sur­ing a long, pro­trac­ted fight for the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion that could well be de­cided at the Clev­e­land con­ven­tion.

Trump ex­ceeded the already high ex­pect­a­tions he faced in the state, win­ning with 34 per­cent of the vote. He will re­cov­er some of the mo­mentum he lost after fin­ish­ing a dis­ap­point­ing second in Iowa. Des­pite a light­er sched­ule in New Hamp­shire and vul­gar clos­ing rally Monday night, he’ll again have proven that the nor­mal rules of polit­ics don’t ap­ply in such an anti­es­tab­lish­ment year. He won nearly 30 per­cent of wo­men voters, 30 per­cent of col­lege gradu­ates, and 29 per­cent of voters whose fam­il­ies made over $100,000 a year. He broadened sup­port past his base and, if that holds past New Hamp­shire, he’ll be a for­mid­able can­did­ate to the end.

“We are go­ing to make Amer­ica great again!” Trump said as he began his vic­tory speech. “New Hamp­shire, we’re not go­ing to for­get you. You star­ted it.”

The equally sig­ni­fic­ant takeaway is that, con­trary to the in­dic­a­tions from Iowa, the so-called es­tab­lish­ment lane will be crowded un­til South Car­o­lina—and po­ten­tially even longer.  That’s a night­mare scen­ario for party lead­ers look­ing for the most elect­able nom­in­ee to emerge from the scrum.

Marco Ru­bio looked as if he had se­cured that role with an im­press­ive third-place fin­ish in Iowa, but his de­bate stumble knocked him all the way down to an em­bar­rass­ing fifth place in New Hamp­shire. He’s barely above the 10 per­cent threshold ne­ces­sary to win a del­eg­ate out of the Gran­ite State. His cam­paign was so fo­cused on mes­sage dis­cip­line even after his de­bate re­pe­ti­tions that it un­der­es­tim­ated New Hamp­shire voters’ ap­pre­ci­ation for un­var­nished au­then­ti­city. In­stead of jok­ing about his gaffe, he doubled down on his mes­sage.  That cost him badly in the fi­nal stretch of the primary.

Ru­bio is also can­celing a sched­uled ap­pear­ance in South Car­o­lina Wed­nes­day to vote on North Korea sanc­tions le­gis­la­tion. It’s a sign that his own cam­paign re­cog­nized that miss­ing Sen­ate votes only played in­to his biggest vul­ner­ab­il­ity—the idea that he doesn’t have the ex­per­i­ence to be pres­id­ent.

The res­ults also en­sure that Jeb Bush and John Kasich will re­main in the race for the long haul. With a strong second-place fin­ish, Kasich will now be mo­tiv­ated to stick around un­til (at least) Ohio’s win­ner-take-all primary on March 15. Be­cause the race is head­ing south, the un­der­fun­ded, out-or­gan­ized un­der­dog doesn’t ex­pect many op­por­tun­it­ies to win del­eg­ates be­fore then. But mark the March 8 Michigan primary as a test of his stay­ing power.

Bush didn’t have nearly as good a show­ing as Kasich, fin­ish­ing with just 11 per­cent of the vote—des­pite his cam­paign and al­lied su­per PAC spend­ing about $35 mil­lion in the state. But by fin­ish­ing ahead of his protégé-turned-nemes­is Ru­bio, Bush is likely to sol­dier onto South Car­o­lina, where he’s backed by Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham and where his broth­er, George W. Bush, is ex­pec­ted to cam­paign on his be­half. Between his cam­paign and su­per PAC, he will also have the fin­an­cial re­sources to con­tin­ue at­tack­ing his es­tab­lish­ment-lane rivals, pre­vent­ing them from get­ting too much mo­mentum.

It’s the emer­ging Ru­bio-Bush clash that prom­ises to be a massive head­ache for prag­mat­ic-minded party lead­ers. Bush barely stayed in the top rung. If not for Ru­bio’s costly gaffe, his show­ing would have been seen as dis­ap­point­ing. Now the enmity between the two cam­paigns is even more pitched.

Ted Cruz is in the best shape go­ing for­ward of all the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates. He fin­ished in third place even though he barely spent any money in New Hamp­shire. He’s well or­gan­ized and well fun­ded head­ing in­to South Car­o­lina, where he will be en­gaged in a bru­tal battle with Trump. If he can beat Trump, he’ll be very well-po­si­tioned in the Deep South states that pre­dom­in­ate on Su­per Tues­day. “Wash­ing­ton lib­er­als may find South Car­o­lina far less hos­pit­able en­virons,” Cruz said in his postelec­tion speech, in a jibe at his more-mod­er­ate rivals.

Chris Christie, mean­while, an­nounced he was re­turn­ing home to New Jer­sey in­stead of head­ing to cam­paign in South Car­o­lina—a clear sign that the end of his cam­paign is near. If he drops out, it will be the ul­ti­mate in­sult to Ru­bio, whose cam­paign was wounded by a chal­lenger who did noth­ing for his own can­did­acy in the pro­cess. It was the ul­ti­mate murder-sui­cide.

The over­all post-New Hamp­shire win­ner is chaos. If the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz forces in the party can’t rally be­hind a favored al­tern­at­ive be­fore Su­per Tues­day, it’s in­creas­ingly likely that no one will be able to se­cure a ma­jor­ity of del­eg­ates at the end of the pro­cess.

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