5 Takeaways From New Hampshire

By Cinzia Croce

1. For Republicans, the Iowa Caucuses Are Virtually Meaningless

It is clear that what happens in Iowa stays in Iowa, as the results from Ethanolandia were quickly forgotten by everyone except for Ben Carson, who is still smarting over Cruz’s dirty tricks. The only news lingering is the insane process used to award delegates. Four years ago, it took Republicans literally weeks to determine their winner, and this year it is the Democrats’ turn to haggle over the results. Months of media coverage, polling and political analysis are spent on this totally unrepresentative slice of the electorate that seems purposely designed to pull candidates away from the center — particularly on the Republican side. Fellow Americans, how long are we going to tolerate this monumental waste of time?

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The Trumpening

By Alex Knepper

The outcome in New Hampshire could not have been more favorable to Donald Trump: Chris Christie’s operatic kamikaze mission against Marco Rubio succeeded in spectacular fashion, humiliating the boy wonder for a second time by reducing him to a fifth-place finish in a state where just one week ago he had dreamed — plausibly — of finishing in second. But that is not all: John Kasich, roughly matching Jon Huntsman’s 2012 total, was the one to snag Rubio’s prize — and he will find himself utterly incapable of capitalizing on it. And because God has a sense of humor, Ted Cruz was able to block Jeb Bush from even claiming a spot in the Top 3.

With Rubio deflated and Kasich a poor fit for the state, Mr. Bush may win 2nd place in South Carolina — especially since he is finally wising up and bringing George W. Bush, beloved among the GOP base, to campaign for him. But even a strong second-place finish would be too little, too late for the unhappy warrior. And this result would only further muddle the prospects for the ‘establishment lane,’ besides. A relatively strong Iowa finish by Rubio, a relatively strong New Hampshire finish by Kasich, and a relatively strong South Carolina finish by Bush all amount to this: Donald Trump steamrolling the competition. (As for Ted Cruz, he is likely to meet the same fate as the last two ‘winners’ of Iowa.)

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I am writing all of this not because I like it, but because it is true. One week ago, I endorsed the conventional wisdom that we had a three-man race on our hands. The race is now effectively over. Let’s be blunt: Rubio had his shot to consolidate the center-right against Trump, and he blew it. Some will be tempted to blame Christie for spoiling a beautiful opportunity, but we should really be thanking him for doing us the favor of quickly exposing Rubio for the empty suit he’s always been. Why the Republican ‘establishment’ ever tried to convince the center-right to rally around a hiding-in-plain-sight religious-rightist with no legislative accomplishments or policy heft is utterly mystifying. Since last autumn, conservative pundits have been trying to force Rubio down people’s throats — maybe out of envy toward Obama, who knows? — but they somehow forgot that he had competitors who weren’t going to just passively let that happen. The long-prophesied Rubio surge finally — finally — arrived, and it took just five days for an able prosecutor to snuff it out. (Maybe they should have tried to force Christie down people’s throats instead?)

Given these dynamics, Trump is probably unstoppable. He is dominating the polls in every state that will vote over the next month, and he will only gain momentum from New Hampshire. There seems to be nothing he could possibly say that could alienate his current supporters.

As for the other personality-cult leader who triumphed last night: it is truly the height of chutzpah to declare that SuperPAC money corrupts our democracy on a night in which neither of the winners have SuperPACs, the second-place Republican finisher pulled it off via retail politicking, and the $100,000,000 man placed a distant fourth. Disciples of St. Bernie should enjoy the week in which their candidate leads the delegate count, because the race is about to shift to the South, and they will have to face the reality that not everyone in America is a white bourgeois-type aspiring to imitate the Swedes.

Is Marco Rubio Still Overrated?

By Alex Knepper

For many months, the pundit class tried to force a narrative into existence to make Marco Rubio the front-running ‘establishment lane’ candidate, and perhaps even simply the front-runner, full-stop. There’s no doubt that Sen. Rubio did what he needed to do in Iowa, coming closer to Donald Trump than Trump came to Ted Cruz, but there are a number of obstacles to Rubio consolidating ‘establishment’ support in a timely manner that the over-excitable chattering classes seem to think.

New Hampshire jealously guards its ‘first-in-the-nation’ role, and rarely cares what Iowa has to say. It is usually the case that New Hampshire takes a maybe-mischievous enjoyment in rebuking Iowa. Despite the strange confluence of events that have marked Sen. Rubio as an ‘establishment’ candidate, he is really not a typical ‘establishment’ candidate: besides making his mark by defeating ex-Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 Senate primaries, he has toyed with support for granting Constitutional rights to fetuses, endorsed Mike Huckabee for president in 2008 despite there being minimal incentive to do so, has called for a new Constitutional convention, stridently opposes same-sex marriage, and has refused to say how old the Earth is, on the grounds that he’s “not a scientist, man.” Keeping in line with the GOP’s typical delusions about youth and minority outreach, we are supposed to believe that since he’s slightly darker than Mitt Romney, under the age of 50, and listens to hip-hop, millennials and black voters are suddenly going to be interested in the same old Reaganite platform. Putting an old, losing message in a young, brown person’s mouth isn’t sufficient.

Cruz winning Iowa was undoubtedly a blow to Donald Trump, although Trump is still the prohibitive favorite to win New Hampshire by double-digits. But thanks to his Iowa victory, Cruz has earned a ticket to at least the SEC primaries, where he will have to contend with Trump for a significant share of the same voters. Yet, we should not be so sure that Rubio will have the ‘establishment’ lane to himself by then: New Hampshire independents are showing a strong preference for John Kasich, and there is no sign of that changing. Rubio has been in a traffic jam with Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie for months. If Kasich defeats Rubio in New Hampshire, he too will have earned a ticket through February. It is also possible that even Jeb Bush will stay in through South Carolina, a state in which he continues to over-perform his national polls and in which he has invested a large amount of money. Purely out of pride he may decide to fight on his home turf in Florida, too, rather than cede that to his former protege. Rubio may have the ‘establishment lane’ to himself by March, but his momentum could be severely undercut by likely losses to Trump in both New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Trump also has a commanding lead — and for failing to have fully consolidated the Kasich-Bush vote by then (Christie should be gone by South Carolina). If Trump manages to win Florida, too, which is more than possible, given recent polling (and the likely burst of momentum he could earn from wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina), Cruz might be too weakened to pose a serious threat to him after that, anyway. Only at that point would we have a Rubio-Trump race on our hands, and it’s not clear Rubio would be the favorite in that match-up.

Some of the betting markets now peg Rubio as the likely nominee. I think the edge is still with Trump, whose ability to win a quarter of the vote among a two-thirds Evangelical electorate — despite having no significant ground game and being a thrice-married, irreligious, vulgar New York City billionaire who has kissed a drag-laden Rudy Giuliani, was once ‘roasted’ on Comedy Central by Snoop Dogg, and once tackled Vince MacMahon and shaved his head — is actually extremely impressive. He overcame that which did in Rudy Giuliani in 2008. Marco Rubio is racking up Congressional endorsements and earning the support of new big-money donors, but if we’ve learned anything so far in this cycle, it’s that having Wall Street backers, Congressional cheerleaders, and a traditional pedigree might actually be liabilities.

Rubio has done everything he needs to do so far, but the rest of February poses more challenges than the mainstream media, which has underestimated Trump all along, is willing to concede. We should not let our desire for ‘normalcy’ — that is: for this election cycle to closely resemble the cycles of the past several decades — deceive us into thinking that this cycle has suddenly become ‘normal’ simply because Marco Rubio managed to come in a strong third in Iowa.

Same Old Song and Dance

By Cinzia Croce

As soon as Ted Cruz was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses, the factions that have traditionally dominated GOP primaries wasted no time reverting to form. They are elated to have dodged the bullet of a Trump win, which could have made him unstoppable and forever change Republican politics. That may still be in the cards, but the entrenched factions are working overtime to use the week between Iowa and New Hampshire to turn the primaries into a repeat of the quadrennial war of establishment candidate versus the base.

Both factions claim to have the perfect formula for winning the general election. The establishment usually selects candidates who are center-right, in the hopes of appealing to moderate voters. The GOP base holds the opposite view: that the surest path to the White House is to nominate a rock-ribbed conservative who will draw to the polls millions of disenchanted conservative voters. Only “bold colors” can guarantee victory, they say — no “pale pastels.”

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Ghosts of Hillary’s Campaigns Past

By Cinzia Croce

As the 2016 presidential campaign got underway, the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton would quickly secure the Democratic nomination while it would be months before the GOP would crown its nominee.  Some even raised the specter of a brokered convention. But as the Iowa caucuses approach, it appears the opposite may come to pass: Hillary having to slug it out for months while Donald Trump runs the table.

The clearest sign that Hillary’s campaign is in trouble is Sen. Claire McCaskill — one of the most effective attack dogs in the business — calling Bernie Sanders a socialist. A few days ago, the New York Times reported Ms. McCaskill declaring,“The Republicans won’t touch him [Sanders] because they can’t wait to run an ad with a hammer and sickle”. “Hammer and sickle”? Not even a perfunctory “Bernie is a socialist” stop before launching the “Bernie is a communist” attack?! Hillary must be in deep trouble.

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