Who had it worst in New Hampshire?
Hillary Clinton: Might as well start with the obvious one, but her defeat is unlikely to cost her the nomination. It may be similar to George W. Bush’s landslide loss to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000. There was a fuss, but nothing more, as it turned out.
The first four presidential contests are mainly about winnowing. The New Jersey governor was winnowed. It’s unfair to blame him for taking his best shot at winning by going after Marco Rubio in Saturday night’s debate. That may have weakened Rubio, and led to what many see as chaos in the Republican nomination fight right now, but they might more fairly blame Jeb Bush for directing more than $20 million of negative ads at Rubio.
Marco Rubio: His chances have taken a significant hit, but I wouldn’t exaggerate the effect. He’s the only candidate running a coalition-style campaign. He may finally have a respite from the beating he’s been taking from several candidates and learn from it. And he’s the leader, though barely, in support from party actors.
New Hampshire: Blowout victories by two candidates who remain long shots for their party nominations are bad for the Granite State. Democrats have already grumbled about putting New Hampshire at the front of the calendar, and I expect conservative Republicans to begin organizing against it after another cycle in which mainstream conservative candidates were walloped there.
Momentum: No candidate who came out of Iowa with a boost got much of anywhere in New Hampshire. Sure, this time Ted Cruz was facing a less hospitable Republican electorate and still managed a third-place finish, but that’s what the polls taken before the Iowa caucuses mostly predicted. Rubio won the expectations game in Iowa but had nothing to show for it in New Hampshire.
Party Actors (1): The parties will fight off Sanders and Trump eventually, although neither the consensus for Clinton on the Democratic side nor the consensus against Trump on the Republican side produced results in New Hampshire. But neither party is in any particular trouble right now. Even if the nomination battles still appear unsettled by mid-March, research on hard-fought primaries shows that they don’t derail the party’s choice. Whatever bitterness these battles create within the party is countered by the enthusiasm the participants bring to them — an energy that helps the eventual nominee.
Party Actors (2): It’s going to get difficult for high- profile Democrats who support Clinton and high-profile Republicans who oppose Trump. The former will continue to be attacked as part of an establishment corrupted by money. The latter will get that, too, and worse. Most Republican politicians, for whatever reason, have been ducking public endorsements. They’ll now be under even more pressure to pick a horse while also facing the possibility of an attack from Trump (and his voters) if they oppose him publicly. And Republicans face the threat of having to settle for Ted Cruz, a politician many of them despise. As a party, they’ll still probably wind up where they were going, but for the individual party elites it won’t be fun.
—Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics. A political
scientist, he previously wrote “A Plain Blog About Politics.” He is co-editor of “The Making of the Presidential Candidates 2012