The winners in the New Hampshire primaries were, as you might have heard, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. In related news, the world has turned upside down.
Yes, it’s just as big as that.
Neither result was a surprise – for once the polls were dead on – but both results are still hugely shocking. The only question at this stage of the race is which party establishment is more panicked by which brand of populist (the Bernie kind or the billionaire kind).
As I write this, Sanders sits at around 60 percent of the vote and didn’t just win 85 percent – yes, 85 percent – of the 18 to 29 vote, he won men, he won women, he won dogs, he won cats, he beat the Clintons, he beat the hell-bent women-shamers, he beat establishment politics, he beat the odds. No, Bernie clobbered the odds. He might have even won the African-American vote if, in fact, New Hampshire had any African-Americans to speak of.
Worse, for those in the Democratic establishment anyway, the Sanders campaign has successfully tagged Hillary Clinton as a well-paid friend to Wall Street — a tag she will spend the rest of the campaign trying to figure out how to live down. Imagine how bad it would be if Sanders had actually gone negative. Instead, it was the Big Dog who went negative against Bernie, and you saw where that got the Clintons.
Yes, the smart money says that Clinton is still the heavy favorite, that she has a lock on the minority vote (Latinos in Nevada; blacks in South Carolina) and that, at some point, voters will figure out that Sanders can’t win in a general election. But who’s to say minority voters, given the chance, might not feel the Bern? Besides, once you lose New Hampshire by 20 points, as Clinton has, inevitability becomes a much harder sell.
Still, for those of us who dismissed Sanders as a summer fling – that might have been me — it’s now the dead of winter, Clinton may be shaking up her campaign, and by March 15, there will have been something like 30 more states in play. I don’t know that Sanders can keep up. I don’t know how he’ll sell in the South. I don’t know how he’ll sell in states where he’s still a relatively unknown quantity. But this kind of win guarantees at least a few things — that the race is going to last for a while and that Sanders’s message, which is attracting many millions of small donors and many millions of dollars, will get heard. In fact, he’ll be on Colbert tonight.
Which brings us to that other TV star — the Donald. After absorbing an embarrassing loss in Iowa, in which he apparently had either forgotten to put together a ground game or didn’t know what a ground game was, Trump came to New Hampshire as an official loser, which was supposed to put the whole Trump magic to rest. Sure, he still had the xenophobic, sexist, bigoted, wall-building, vulgarity-cheering vote to count on, but, he had to be wondering, would that be enough? Well, it turns out Trump didn’t just win. He doubled up on runner-up John Kasich and left all the would-be front-runners struggling for words (Jeb!: my campaign is “not dead”) and for air (Marco Rubio with his “it’s not on you, it’s on me”).
Trump, meanwhile, reverted to form, telling his supporters, in what amounts to the Trumpian ethos, “We are going to make our country so strong. We are going to start winning again. . . . We don’t win with anything. We are going to start winning again, and we are going to win so much, you are going to be so happy.”
OK, not everyone is happy. Imagine Trump as the GOP nominee. If you can’t, maybe you haven’t been paying enough attention. Something is going on, and no one knows quite what to do about it. New Hampshire was where the Republican elites hoped to find their establishment-lane candidate to rally around. Now, the same pundits who wrote endlessly about GOP lanes are deriding the whole concept. Kasich, who finished second, has little money and little appeal in the next group of states. As I write this, Jeb! is in fourth place, just ahead of Rubio, who was the anointed one before his disastrous debate performance, which he couldn’t quite, uh, dispel.
The hope for Republican elites is that Trump tops out at 35 percent, that he’s the beneficiary of a big field and that eventually the field will narrow. But the problem is that the one best placed to stop Trump is probably Ted Cruz. Let’s consider that again — if it’s not Trump, it could be Cruz. And yeah I’d give Republicans the edge in the panic face-off.
On the Democratic side, we know it’s routine for them to fall in love, at least briefly, with the true-believer lefty in the race. It’s unprecedented, though, when it’s a 74-year-old, don’t-stop-believin’, self-described socialist. Now Sanders’s call for political revolution has won him one state and nearly won him another and he gets a chance to prove that mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire are more than demographic flukes.
Meanwhile, it’s getting late and Clinton is still looking for a message that inspires voters. What she has always counted on is that as the longstanding enemy of Republicans, she’ll be embraced by most Democrats in the end.
So, can Clinton lose? Can Trump win?
History would say no in both cases. But at least for one night, it’s not clear that history has anything much left to say.