What do Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have in common, besides the obvious fact of having won their respective party’s New Hampshire primary last night? Bernie is an avowed Socialist; Trump is …. well, Trump. Their political philosophies could not be more different. The answer is that they are both anti-establishment, anti-politician, anti-Washington candidates who have successfully tapped into the anger and frustration of the voters. As I have been saying, the voters are fed up and want a change. Their prevailing attitude is “the current government is not working. Throw them all out and start over.”
NH has been holding presidential primaries since 1916. The state’s primary process has some interesting quirks. For instance:
(1) NH state law mandates that it shall be the first primary of the season. The official date is March 2, but the law directs the Secretary of State to change the date, as needed, to ensure that the primary is held at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state. Note: the Iowa caucuses are not considered to be a “similar election” for this purpose. Thus, the NH primary is held on different dates, as needed to be the first.
(2) The primary is an open primary (sort of). So-called “undeclared voters,” those who are not registered with any party may vote in either party’s primary. But, in order to vote, one must have a party affiliation. So, just prior to voting in the primary, the voter must register with that party. Immediately following the vote, the voter may revoke his registration and return to the status of “undeclared.” This process is not as confusing as it may sound. This process adds a degree of unpredictability to the voting, particularly in years when one party’s primary is open and shut and the other is contested.
The NH primary began to achieve significance in 1952. That year, going in, the GOP favorite was “Mr. Republican,” Robert Taft. Dwight Eisenhower was merely a famous war hero with an unproven record as a politician and vote getter. Ike beat him. On the Dem side, Estes Kefauver defeated sitting President, Harry Truman (causing Truman to abandon his hopes for a second term). Thus, was the significance of the NH primary, as being small in numbers but large in impact, established. There have been other surprises, such as Eugene McCarthy losing very narrowly to sitting President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 (causing Johnson not to seek re-election). On the other hand, there have been some forgettable winners, such as Leonard Wood (1920), Harold Stassen (1948), and Paul Tsongas (1992). Yup. NH is known as the state where candidacies go to die.
Last night’s results in NH will keep the “spin doctors” busy. Thus, a candidate can “win” by losing more closely than anticipated. Conversely, if a favorite does not win by a large enough margin he can be portrayed as having “lost.” Thus, winners become losers and vice versa. Confused? You are not the only one. Welcome to “politics, American style.”
Not to diminish Sanders’ resounding victory, 60 percent to 38, but I also see it as a referendum against Hillary Clinton and what she stands for. How much of it was pro-Sanders and how much was anti-Hillary is anybody’s guess. Time will tell. So far, predictions in this year’s Presidential election have been as accurate as predicting the weather, i.e. not so good.
On the GOP side, things became more muddled, if possible. Trump dominated the field with 35 percent, but after that things became more complicated. Kasich surprised by running second with 16 percent, which boosted his campaign, but remember he had ignored Iowa to focus on NH. The other surprise was Rubio, who seemed to have momentum coming out of Iowa, finishing in an also-ran group with Cruz and Bush. Perhaps, he was hurt by a poor performance in Saturday’s debate. He should do better in the upcoming contests.
All the “experts” have been severely underestimating Sanders from the outset. He was supposed to have faded long before now. He continues to astound and confound. Perhaps, he will finally fizzle in South Carolina and Nevada where the voting constituencies are more diverse. Perhaps, he will surprise again. Either way, I expect him to stay in the race, accumulating delegates, for the foreseeable future. I think he realizes that in this wild and wacky year anything can happen. For example, Clinton might be indicted and have to drop out; Biden might not run; the rest of the Dem field is extremely “thin;” Bloomberg may enter the race as a third party candidate; or, even if none of those events occurs, Sanders may accumulate enough delegates to become a strong influence at the convention. Sanders’ prospects have improved from “no way” to “long shot.”
On the GOP side, Trump has the establishment worried, to say the least. They are cringing at the prospect of him winning the nomination. Unfortunately, all the best moderate candidates – Rubio, Kasich and Bush – continue to cancel each other out. Kasich’s strong second in NH has muddied the waters further. Cruz has the conservative wing to himself. I expect that one of the moderates will eventually emerge to make it a three-man race. Trump, Cruz and one of them will be in it to the end. Perhaps, the GOP will end up with an old-fashioned brokered convention. “Smoke-filled room” anyone?