The New Hampshire primary involved high stakes for the Iowa victors, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio.
But it was New Hampshire’s unsentimental humbling of the establishment candidates — Gov. John Kasich excepted — that is the story, along with the big win by the ultimate establishment smasher, Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump placed second in Iowa, where he spent relatively little time and money, and first in New Hampshire, where he spent relatively little time and money. His movement is real. And he created it by not just refusing to follow the old rules, but by blowing them up and creating new rules of his own.
Mr. Trump’s appeal is attitudinal, not ideological. In many ways, he’s running the first 21st century post-ideological campaign. This has infuriated many conservatives, of course. But Mr. Trump is selling strength. Like him or not, agree with him or not, he projects authority and confidence, two things necessary but not sufficient for a winning candidate.
And that’s part of the key: The conservative base is sick of losing with squishes the establishment elite told them they had to support lest the party lose a general election. Voters have had enough of the “omnipotent” party gray-hairs demanding their unquestioning acquiescence to the elite’s ways, rules and candidates.
The more members of the political class criticize Mr. Trump, the more “establishment” they appear to the base, and the more support Mr. Trump receives. Voters have been lectured enough. They’re tired of losing with losers. They want to back a winning horse, and the winning horse is the strong horse.
His supporters don’t much care that he’s identified as a Democrat in the past, or that he’s been pro-choice on abortion, supported government health care, criticized conservatism and praised and donated to the Clintons. They only care that he’s been talking tough on the very things that directly threaten their personal, economic and national security: illegal immigration, the border, the Islamic threat, trade deals that disadvantage the middle and working classes, job loss and stagnant wages.
Many conservative voters feel utterly betrayed by a Republican establishment that has relentlessly marginalized them and their beliefs. Mr. Trump is telling the base that he hears and shares its concerns — even if he’s not perfect by conservative standards. They believe him — which is something money cannot buy. Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Another note on Mr. Trump’s attitudinal appeal: He is unapologetic. He has refused to cave in to the leftist mafia-style intimidation racket, which gins up faux outrage and applies public pressure for an apology or change in behavior. Mr. Trump doesn’t give in to the mob. He fights back. Voters are tired of watching the left do all of the fighting for America’s future. They want someone who will finally put up a fight on their side to restore America to its foundational principles.
Mr. Trump is in the driver’s seat for the nomination, but his challenge will be to continue translating the contagious enthusiasm of his big crowds into actual votes without running massive ground operations in the upcoming big states. His win in New Hampshire demonstrates that he can do it, and that he’s learned the lesson of Iowa that voters want personal attention, or at the very least, a sense that their vote means something to the candidate. As Barack Obama demonstrated, one can be a political rockstar and run an old-school, get-out-the-vote operation.
As for the other candidates, their New Hampshire mission was not to defeat Mr. Trump but rather to earn the right to continue in the race.
The immediate runners-up, John Kasich and Ted Cruz, accomplished that. Mr. Kasich benefited from New Hampshire’s sizable group of moderate voters, but given his lack of resources and organization after South Carolina, he may well be a one-state candidate.
Mr. Cruz, Iowa’s winner and New Hampshire’s surprise bronze medal finalist, heads to South Carolina, where he’s built a sophisticated grass-roots organization, particularly among college students who don’t self-identify as socialists. His conservative rebellion rolls on, and he looks like a long marcher.
The three biggest disappointments were Govs. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, who imperiled their candidacies by failing to rank in the top three, and Mr. Rubio, whose strong performance in Iowa raised expectations that he did not meet. The pressure is on him to outperform in South Carolina or risk a flameout.
Mr. Rubio’s weak finish has set off mass panic among the establishment to stop Messrs. Trump and Cruz, but it may already be too late.
Elections are about the future, and right now, the future looks a lot like a political earthquake. And the voters have only begun to ratchet up the magnitude.
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