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.)
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.