By definition, a development everyone expected to happen can’t be a surprise, but that doesn’t make the outcome any less remarkable: Donald Trump, a first-time candidate running on a bizarre platform, won the Republican Party’s New Hampshire presidential primary – easily.
The vote tally isn’t quite finished, but as things stand, the New York developer is on track to prevail with a margin of victory of 19 points, which is the largest for a non-incumbent Republican since Reagan’s 1980 win over three decades ago.
In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, in which Trump finished second, the conventional wisdom said the setback put the candidate on a trajectory towards inevitable failure: the Trump bubble had been pierced, the paper tiger had been exposed, and some degree of normalcy had been restored in the nominating fight.
No one is saying that anymore. On the contrary, chaos now reigns.
As we did after Iowa, let’s again try to cut through the noise and break things down from a pitch-vs-hype-vs-truth perspective.
The Pitch: “We are going to start winning again!” Trump said in his victory speech. “We are going to win so much. You are going to be so happy.”
The Buzz: Meet the new GOP frontrunner, same as the old GOP frontrunner.
The Truth: It’s interesting to see the Republican race effectively reset to where it stood before the Iowa caucuses. At that point, Trump was on track to prevail, and now he’s right back where he was. Just as important, the road ahead looks favorable – Trump enjoys big leads in South Carolina polling – titling the odds further in his favor.
The Pitch: The Ohio governor suddenly has the “GOP establishment” lane all to himself.
The Buzz: A strong showing in New Hampshire doesn’t negate the fact that Kasich is poorly positioned to compete in the next round of primaries and caucuses.
The Truth: Kasich deserves enormous credit for implementing an effective New Hampshire strategy, built largely on a foundation of retail politicking and a unique, positive message. His second-place showing, outperforming polling averages, gives the governor renewed credibility as a national candidate. What it does not give him, however, are the resources and organizational structure he needs to move forward. The best case scenario for Kasich: other establishment-style Republicans quickly drop out and endorse him.
The Pitch: A first-place finish in Iowa, a third-place finish in New Hampshire. Not too shabby.
The Buzz: Maybe the Texas Republican can overcome being unlikable after all?
The Truth: Cruz’s chances of winning the GOP nomination remain underappreciated. He has a real ground game, lots of money, and realistic odds in several Southern states. Cruz would have settled for fourth in New Hampshire – the fact that he beat Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio is evidence of a surprisingly strong showing.
The Pitch: Jeb outperformed the pre-primary polling averages. Please clap.
The Buzz: If Rubio’s collapsing, and Kasich doesn’t have any money, maybe Bush can reclaim the mantle as the competitive establishment candidate?
The Truth: Bush really would be crazy to drop out now. Yes, a fourth-place finish in New Hampshire, where he invested so much time and energy, has to sting. But he’s well positioned to compete in South Carolina, and the aforementioned buzz is actually pretty easy to believe.
The Pitch: Is it too late to roll out Lieberman’s “three-way split decision for third place”?
The Buzz: Rubio had every possible advantage. After Iowa, he had the endorsements, the punditocracy’s creepy affection, the money, the “momentum,” and poll support. He managed to blow it anyway.
The Truth: Let’s dispel with the notion that Marco Rubio knows what he’s doing. He hasn’t the foggiest idea what he’s doing. The Florida senator expected a second-place finish; he might have been able to spin a third-place finish (again); but coming in fifth, and leaving New Hampshire without winning any delegates at all, is a genuine disaster. Most of the state’s voters made their decision after the debate, which meant Rubio ruined his own chances. Recovery will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, and his “3-2-1” strategy is dead.
The Pitch: Time for some traffic problems in Manchester?
The Buzz: Christie’s strong debate performance on Saturday night may have taken out Rubio, but it did little to propel the governor.
The Truth: New Hampshire was Christie’s only real shot at success. A sixth-place, single-digit showing, following months in which he practically lived in the Granite State, seals his fate. It’s as simple as that.