For a week there, it started to look like Democrats’ worst case scenario might come true in the presidential primary: Marco Rubio was poised to quickly dispatch the other mainstream candidates in New Hampshire, leading to a fast consolidation of center-right voters that could defeat Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Instead, Rubio short-circuited and dispelled with the notion that he knows what he’s doing.
The final result for Republicans couldn’t have been better scripted for Democrats:
1. Trump, Donald 93,203 35%
2. Kasich, John 42,150 16%
3. Cruz, Ted 30,706 12%
4. Bush, Jeb 29,418 11%
5. Rubio, Marco 27,961 11%
6. Christie, Chris 19,939 8%
7. Fiorina, Carly 11,092 4%
8. Carson, Ben 6,025 2%
Trump bounces back from his Iowa loss with a solid victory, and heads into South Carolina and Super Tuesday in a strong position to rack up enough delegates to extend the primary. He still now has a chance to win the nomination, which would lead to a Democratic landslide in November and a massive crisis for the Republican Party as a whole. His over-performance over the New Hampshire polls also may signal he’ll be stronger in primary states where it’s not as hard for his less-likely voters to turn out.
Ted Cruz’s third place finish keeps him on track for his plan of doing well in or winning South Carolina, then dominating in the southern SEC primary states. It’s particularly noteworthy that he could get in the top three in a state not well-suited for his evangelical base. Still, it is only 12%.
John Kasich emerged as the winner of the mainstream/establishment candidates with a decent 16%. Good for him. He’s never going to win the nomination. Having only raised a combined candidate/Super PAC amount of $22.9 million, compared to Jeb Bush’s $155.6 million and Rubio’s $77.2 million, and without nearly as large a national campaign infrastructure, Kasich simply isn’t prepared to capitalize on his momentum. He’s also not a great campaigner, coming off bizarre and confrontational at times in forums. And his hesitancy to engage on red meat conservative issues will hurt him if he becomes a larger force. Kasich’s win only serves to drag out the battle between the mainstream candidates, putting off the consolidation of those voters that can knock off Trump and Cruz.
The most interesting thing that could come out of these results is what it allows Bush to do in South Carolina. His fourth place finish ahead of Rubio gives him enough legitimacy to continue on, which wasn’t a given just a few days ago. George W. Bush is scheduled to hit the campaign trail in South Carolina hard for his brother. Will that make a big difference? Who knows, but it’s something new for Jeb that could shake up the dynamics of the race. And he has the money and campaign operation that can keep him competing for a while longer.
Chris Christie is the odd man out after New Hampshire, likely to drop his bid soon after two lousy showings in a row. It’s too bad, as he was a great in-person campaigner and livened up the debates. Christie certainly had his flaws, but he could have been a formidable general election opponent for Democrats.
Ben Carson’s sad 2% pushes him that much closer to leaving the race, or at least removing himself as an option for most voters. That will help Cruz pick up more of the evangelical vote in later states, keeping him strong.
At the end of the day, there’s still a strong likelihood that Rubio yet emerges from a long, drawn-out contest as the nominee. Trump and Cruz are simply un-electable at the national level, and Republicans may yet pull themselves back from the brink. But thanks to Rubio’s implosion in New Hampshire, Trump and Cruz are assured to continue into Super Tuesday (barring a disaster in South Carolina), where both can nab a significant number of delegates. Rubio may finally get some state wins in Minnesota and/or Massachusetts on March 1st, but he’ll need lots of real victories at some point.
South Carolina may yet cause another huge shakeup, but Democrats can rest a little easier for the next week or so in knowing that Rubio won’t run away with the nomination quite so fast. And Trump’s dominant New Hampshire win can allow them to get back to daydreams about a general election cakewalk.
by Pat Rynard