If the story out of Iowa a week ago was that “the polls were wrong,” last night the polls struck back. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won commanding victories in New Hampshire beating the already-high expectations set by late polling.
Here are the six things you need to know about last night and going forward:
- This was the first taste of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Look, folks, I get that the story may shift to “who will win South Carolina… etc.” but Trump’s win here, especially given that it generally matched polling before he vote, bodes very well for the New York mogul in his quest for the Presidency. Trump should get a small bump in the polls coming out of New Hampshire and there’s no real indication of any hurdles Trump will have to cross not to maintain his national lead. Given that the establishment lane of the Republican Party is a jumbled mess (more on that later), Trump could very well coast to the nomination with a ~30% plurality (he would do this because of the “winner take all” states beginning with Florida on March 15. Despite only receiving around 1/3 of Republican support, Trump could achieve the nomination outright by early May. Again, yes, we are still early in the Primary contest, but there’s no storyline coming out of new Hampshire that should give the “anti-Trump” crowd hope.
- The Establishment Lane is a jumbled mess. You can almost imagine The Trump Lane and the Conservative Lane (Cruz) voters grimacing as they zoom past the four-candidate pileup clogging the establishment side of the Republican Party. Last night provided more chaos than answers. With the exception of Chris Christie (more on him below), all of the establishment folks will fight on. All of them have a “good reason” to do so. Rubio thinks he can be the eventual consensus choice. Jeb Bush has a lot of money. John Kasich (more, again, below) has momentum from New Hampshire and can win his home state of Ohio. While each man has his strengths, they are effectively dividing the ~40% of the “establishment” vote (that is, Republicans who are more-moderate and focus on “electability” and who John McCain endorses) three ways. The problem for these moderates is that there’s no end in sight. Jeb Bush’s apparent personal feuding with Marco Rubio will take him all the way to Florida (maybe even beyond). Each candidate’s partisans see their man as the path forward and are willing to, for some reason, divide the vote and hand the nomination to Donald Trump. We discussed this outcome before as the “Establishment Nightmare.”
- John Kasich was a big winner. Though Donald Trump shattered the narrative that you have to play New Hampshire’s gladhanding game in order to win in the Granite State, Kasich’s solid second-place finish on the Republican side showed that Trump may be the exception that proves the rule. Kasich wagered everything on New Hampshirites coming out to the polls and seeing him as the candidate who most represented their values. Despite the fact that Trump more-than-doubled Kasich’s support, Kasich finished in an undisputed spot while the other GOP contenders were muddled between third and sixth. As we have discussed here before, Kasich has a strategy (if he can actually raise some money because of New Hampshire) that can make him a formidable candidate in late March and beyond. He just has to find a way to get there.
- Chris Christie is likely to drop out. Whereas Kasich wagered everything on New Hampshire and won, Christie wagered it all on New Hampshire and lost. There’s really no path forward for him and the money will dry up. Expect him to drop out and endorse either Bush or Kasich.
- It was a bad night for Marco Rubio. The narrative is that Rubio’s debate performance over the weekend was a killer for any momentum that he had coming out of a strong third place finish in Iowa. This could be the case, but the more likely scenario is that the media tore down Rubio with the same ferocity that they had built him up after Iowa. As we remember, Rubio became the big story after his surprisingly good finish in the caucus. The news coverage shifted on a dime when Rubio flubbed his debate performance Saturday. This 180 degree shift in coverage likely influenced voters. Rubio is a significantly tarnished candidate after New Hampshire, but his campaign is likely far from over.
- South Carolina is in 10 days. You had best believe that the knives are coming out in South Carolina between Republican rivals as they struggle to get a foothold in the First in the South primary. South Carolina divides its delegates between awarding by Congressional District and State-wide. Basically, South Carolina awards around half of its delegates on a winner-take-all by district and winner-take-all by state-wide allocation. What this means is “the rich get richer” and a candidate with a plurality will do the best of anyone. While we are still over a week away (with one more debate in the middle), this allocation formula favors Trump. A win by Trump in South Carolina would catapult him into the “presumptive nominee” status.
Winners and Losers:
Winner: Donald Trump- Proved that he can win and win big.
Winner: Bernie Sanders- What looks like an over-20% route of Hillary is big. Huge, even. Also, the first non-Christian to win a State Primary?
Winner: John Kasich- Shaking hands and kissing babies works.
Winner: Jeb Bush- He wants a second-shot at Rubio, well now he’s got it.
Winner: Pollsters- We tracked the late fall of Rubio and rise of Kasich as well as the large Trump margins.
Winner: Michael Bloomberg- Considering an independent run for President, the billionaire would love to see Hillary damaged beyond repair and a Bernie v. Trump race.
Winner: South Carolina- They’re going to try to winnow the field because New Hampshire decided not to.
Winner: Ted Cruz- He got right around the level of support you’d have expected “the conservative” to get in New Hampshire. As luck would have it, this was enough to put him in third. Not a huge PR victory since he downplayed expectations, but still a nice payday.
Winner: Young people- They actually showed up at the polls. Bernie was the big beneficiary.
Loser: Hillary Clinton- She got wrecked. Spin it however you need to in order to sleep at night, but once the ads start airing of Bernie marching with MLK, Hillary’s dreams of some “minority vote firewall” are doomed.
Loser: Marco Rubio- His only saving grace is that it looks like he’ll get over 10% and get a few delegates. This was a very bad night for Rubio.
Loser: Chris Christie- Gambling doesn’t pay.
Loser: Carly and Ben- Now generally irrelevant (though Ben is useful to Trump to pull 3-5% away from Cruz on Super Tuesday)
Loser: Establishment Republican Pundits- Watching them choke down a Trump victory on live TV is a little entertaining.
Loser: Robby Mook- Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. While he might not be out of a job today, he’s going to have a long list of people he’s going to be letting go today.