The Republican voters, the Democratic voters, and the Independent voters of New Hampshire did in 2016 what they’ve been doing for decades; they shaped the race for president and cemented the narrative that has been emerging all year. As a result, we now have two parties that are offering up amazingly similar choices. Each party has their angry outsider and their experienced insider. This contest and this narrative are now likely to go on for months.
Republicans had two winners in New Hampshire. Donald Trump, the angry, sometimes obscene billionaire who is long on attitude and short on specifics. He needed a win in New Hampshire after his second place finish in Iowa and he got it. Trump promises to make us great again, to make America win again, but he doesn’t really tell us how.
And, after months of searching, it looks like the Republicans may finally have finally found their anti-Trump in the person of former Ohio Governor John Kasich, who came in second, besting all the other “establishment” candidates. Kasich couldn’t be more different than Trump. He has a long record in government and actually knows things. He talks about “fixing problems.” He has balanced budgets—including even the federal one (ironically with the help of former President Bill Clinton) and was governor of a state that was once a basket case but now boasts jobs. Kasich’s “victory” was so important for the role it had in clarifying the complicated Republican field, that television gave him considerable airtime for his “second place” speech—which was, in fact, a victory speech. Kasich will go far in this race, especially if the other establishment candidates can let go of their egos long enough to get out of his way. A Republican ticket headed by someone who can carry Ohio—for many years now the “must win” state in a general election—is a strong ticket.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by a wide margin. This was not unexpected; he has been ahead of her in New Hampshire since early December. Like Trump, Sanders is an angry anti-establishment candidate who rouses great passions in the electorate and attracts some of the same voters Trump attracts, even though they are in different parties. Unlike Trump, Sanders does have policy proposals but they are by and large pie in-the-sky proposals, unlikely to be enacted in a country seriously divided between the two parties.
Sanders will face Hillary Clinton—the “progressive who gets things done,” as she has repeated off and on throughout this race. Like Kasich, Clinton is the candidate with the deep resume. Just as Kasich worked with her husband when Bill was president, Hillary could (and has) worked with Republicans in Congress. And the biggest part of the presidential job these days is, frankly foreign policy. But Hillary, so strong in this area, has been disadvantaged by the fact that Democratic primary voters never really care about this issue. In fact, going forward, Hillary may want to take a page out of Kasich’s New Hampshire book. Almost alone among the candidates he didn’t try to be Trump—he took the opposite tack. Calm and thoughtful versus angry and out there.
This is likely to be a long race in both parties—perhaps all the way to the Conventions. By the time Super Tuesday rolls around on March 1 we will begin to start counting delegates in both parties. On the Democratic side it is likely to be a very close race—much like the Hillary-Obama race in 2008. That’s because all the delegates on the Democratic side are given to candidates in proportion to the vote they get. The way the math works out even losers win delegates and that stretches out the race. On the Republican side many states will start awarding all the delegates to the statewide winner after March 14. If Republicans don’t coalesce around an Anybody-But-Trump candidate, he could lock the nomination up early by simply continuing to win a plurality of the vote.
As the season unfolds Americans will have to ask themselves some serious questions. Do they want someone who expresses their rage but maybe can’t deliver on much of anything they promise, or do they settle for someone who might be able to get them something close to what they want?