Could this night have gone worse for Donald Trump’s foes? Sure, he could have won with 90 percent or something. But this was about as bad a result as they could reasonably fear, and about as good a result as Trump and his fans could want.
Trump’s first-place finish was easy to predict, and in line with most of the polling. In fact, the traditional New Hampshire polling surprise this year was… that the actual results didn’t offer much of a surprise. It always looked like a tightly-packed crowd of candidates from second to sixth place, and the order of finish was pretty ideal for Trump. It’s him against the crowd, and his chunk of the base – even if it’s just a new generation of Pat Buchanan’s share of the vote – will always outpace his rivals, as long as there’s a bunch of them.
John Kasich’s relentless focus on New Hampshire paid off. He’s got little infrastructure in New Hampshire and beyond. He’s got 2 percent in the RealClearPolitics average in South Carolina, 2.3 percent in Florida, and 4 percent nationally. Onward, karate-chopping, Medicaid-expanding son of mailman!
Jeb Bush hung around, and either took bronze or fell just short of it. One can argue that barely getting into double digits after spending $35 million on television advertising in the state, and your Super PAC has nuked your opponents, isn’t that great a finish. But he’s ahead of Rubio, and ahead of Christie. “Please clap”? No, please vote – and just enough New Hampshire Republicans did.
Demographically, this is just about the worst possible state for Ted Cruz, and he came in either third or fourth at this hour. Add that to Iowa, and South Carolina, where he’s currently ranked second, and the Texas Senator is in fine shape for the long haul.
Tonight is just a bad, bad, bad night for Marco Rubio. Not long ago, he seemed like a safe bet for second place in New Hampshire and some of his fans dared dream of an upset victory. It’s hard to argue that his bad answer in the debate — and the subsequent relentless media focus – had no factor in his slide in the final 72 hours before the primary. Sure, Rubio can come back; for what it’s worth, he’s currently third in South Carolina. But the path head is steeper. What most hurts Rubio is that Kasich and Jeb Bush have reasons to continue after tonight. There’s no sign of consolidation in the “establishment lane.”
Christie probably ought to hang it up after getting 8 percent in a state where he bet the ranch. But he may not; he may want to hang around just to rip into Rubio in future debates.
Wait, it gets worse. As the votes get tabulated, keep an eye on how many votes Sanders got compared to the Republican candidates. Everyone expected a Sanders win, but the Socialist is rolling to a big win tonight. This is the “Live Free or Die” state?
Finally, Hillary Clinton has generated a razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses and a blowout loss in a New Hampshire with record turnout, when facing Sanders, far from a whirling dervish of raw political charisma. She’s in terrible shape; Democrats who don’t want to see a Sanders nomination have good reason to panic tonight.