The true winners of the New Hampshire primary were not even
on the ballot. While the vote established McCain as a serious contender for the
nomination and gave Clinton an enormous and unexpected triumph, it also
discredited the media’s distorted, self-reverential reporting. Their
poll-driven narrative anointed Barack Obama as the charismatic
front-runner whose smooth rhetoric and multicultural campaign had united the
nation around his left-wing agenda.
The best witness is Barack Obama himself. In his concession
speech last night, Obama beamed, “You know, a few weeks ago, no one imaged that
we’d have accomplished what we did tonight in New Hampshire.”
He’s right, and what he did last night was lose.
poll taken up to election eve had Obama leading by between 5 and 13 points;
none showed Hillary winning, and few even had the race within the margin of
error. Only one, the Suffolk University/WHDH poll, reflected the election’s
photo finish – and it titled the press release announcing Obama’s projected
one-percent lead, “New Hampshire
Voters See Obama Presidency.” Reportedly, even the Clinton campaign’s
internals forecasted a double-digit loss in the Granite State.
Despite being humbled four years ago by exit
polls that predicted a President Kerry, the media maintained the illusion
of a growing Obama blowout, setting up an easier contest in South Carolina.
Some even hinted Hillary would withdraw from the race last night – an idea that would have been
only slightly less ludicrous had she lost. The voters themselves
checked the media’s “irrational exuberance” for Obama.
The press similarly reported a last-day surge for Mitt
Romney. In a far more tactful variant of Ed Rollins’ exchange with Chris Wallace,
John McCain told his supporters, “When the pundits declared us
finished, I told them, ‘I’m going to New Hampshire, where the voters don’t let
you make their decision for them.’” In fact, New Hampshire has regularly found
itself correcting the voting bloc distortions of the Iowa caucuses: In 1980,
when Reagan rebounded from his loss to George Bush; in 1988, when Bush
rebounded from loss to Bob Dole and Pat Robertson; and in 1992, when it
interred the candidacy of Tom Harkin.
Again this year, New Hampshire refocused the Republican and
Democratic races around general election themes missing
from the Iowa caucuses, especially national security. For that alone, we
should be grateful.
Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire is a greater victory
than her husband’s “Comeback Kid” performance in 1992. Her win would have been
more stunning anywhere other than New Hampshire: she won registered Democrats by 11
points. Obama’s strong showing among independents contained his upset defeat.
Most troubling for his candidacy, Hillary also won non-white women, handily
(50-38). By pulling out a race no one, including Hillary, expected her to win,
she regains the appearance of inevitability, and her strong finish among
minorities will complicate Obama’s efforts in the South, where
African-Americans may be tempted to hedge their bets and vote for Hillary.
The mechanics of the victory can be attributed to her
machine and her Walter Mondale-like subservience to traditional Democratic
interest groups. In addition to women, the poor, and uneducated, Hillary won
union voters by nearly 10 percent over Obama.
She also demonstrated her moderately more rational foreign
policy, winning among those “very worried” about another terrorist attack
(45-39), while splitting those only somewhat worried or not worried.
Most interesting, Hillary won among voters who settled on a
candidate long ago – or those who decided in the previous 24 hours. Those who
decided in any other time-frame (including the last three days) went for Obama.
This is all the more impressive given Hillary’s own missteps during that time.
Did it really help that she likened
herself to LBJ in the midst of a war her base despises, and which she voted
The only positive campaign step she took during that time
was – shedding tears. She wept – apparently out of self-pity – then used the
sympathy her vulnerability won to launch into campaign boilerplate against
Obama. The fact that the gambit (whether scripted or not) worked indicates a
tactic, one for which the conspicuous non-housewife is ill-prepared: showing maternal concern for her
country, looted by rapacious Fat Cats. It appears this is what she indicated
when Mrs. “Ready” told her victory rally that she just found her “own voice” –
one with a quaver in it. The remainder of the speech betrayed a new style, more
reminiscent of her husband’s 1992 delivery, although she still delivered it
with her habitually stilted cadences:
I’ve met families in this state,
and all-over-our-country…men and women who work day-and-night, and
hope-they-don’t-get-sick, because they can’t afford to-pay-the-bills…
Then her pitch for the class warfare vote, filtered through
Michael Harrington’s lexicon:
Too many have been invisible for
too long…The oil companies, the drug companies, the health insurance companies,
the predatory student loan companies have had seven years of a president who
stands up for them. It’s time we had a president who stands up for all of you.
We will all be called upon to
deliver…on the promise that government will be of the people, by the people,
and for the people – not just the privileged few.
Hmm, vowing “To
fight for the people, not the powerful”? Pity no one has tried that before.
New Hampshire voters buried the candidate most exploiting
the populist theme, John Edwards. Edwards has continued attacking Hillary,
hoping for a two-way race against Obama, whom he believes is less electable and
less experienced than he is. This is a mistake. Edwards has little
more experience than Obama; their positions are virtually
indistinguishable; and Edwards was a disappointment as a vice presidential
candidate four years ago. And now Hillary is co-opting his main issue in a
New Hampshire voters returned foreign policy and national
security returned front-and-center for the Grand Old Party. John McCain ran and
won – more handily than some conservatives would like to admit – on his
judgment, gravitas, and sponsorship of the Iraqi Surge. His commercials
hammered Mitt Romney’s lack of national security credentials, insisting “America needs
a president who is serious about foreign policy” and accusing
Romney of turning national defense over to lawyers and bureaucrats.
McCain acknowledged as much in his acceptance speech, a
pitch-perfect plea for a unity based, not on left-wing social justice and
isolationism, but on defending ourselves in the war jiahdists have
launched against us:
Whatever the differences between
us, so much more should unite us – and nothing, nothing should unite us
more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our
values, and modernity itself. …In this great historic task, we will never
surrender. They will.
Perhaps learning from his 2000 performance, he then hit
every note of the Republican scale. He vowed:
to return our party to the
principles that have never failed Americans: the party of fiscal discipline,
low taxes, enduring values, a strong and capable defense, that encourages the
enterprise and ingenuity of individuals, business, and families who know best
how to advance America’s economy and secure the dreams that have made us the
greatest nation in history.
Not a bad line for the man who aspires to be the successor
of Ronald Reagan.
Although McCain must be considered one frontrunner
for the nomination, the overall picture remains clouded, particularly as he remains weak on the party's right-flank. As in his 2000 victory over George W.
Bush, John McCain won every
significant voter group (except senior citizens this time) – but this year, McCain lost self-described conservatives (30-38), who made up
55 percent of all primary voters, and those who voted based on issues (25-33),
who comprised 44 percent of voters.
The GOP will have little time to coalesce around an
anti-McCain conservative. When the perceived front-runners were McCain, Rudy
Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, Romney had positioned himself as the conservative
alternative. Had he not failed expectations in Iowa in New Hampshire, he could have
resumed his role as the least objectionable (essentially the criterion that
earned him the endorsement of National Review). He has, after all, won
one state and come in second in two others. However, he set the bar high in
Michigan – his home state, once governed by his father, George – and a state
John McCain won in 2000. The Detroit newspapers have already endorsed McCain,
who may be poised for another repeat performance.
Mike Huckabee hopes the voters will turn to him based on his
Iowa win, evangelical appeal, and shifting
position on illegal immigration – particularly in
evangelical-rich South Carolina. However, South Carolina also has the highest percentage
of veterans per capita and McCain has run a more traditional (read: less
offensive) campaign there than he did in 2000. And Huckabee is more vulnerable on foreign policy issues than Romney. Fred Thompson may yet emerge as the consistent conservative in the race.
The “true conservative” mantle will depend largely on the
appeal of Rudy Giuliani. He and McCain appeal to the same constituencies, and a strong McCain candidacy may marginalize Giuliani. However, if Hillary clinches the nomination, electability rises as an issue and with it Giuliani's hopes. If the race boils down to a final McCain-Giuliani
fight on Super Tuesday, McCain will be positioned as the conservative, thanks to his largely
conservative record in the Senate and their common weaknesses on immigration.
McCain will likely face questions about his long sponsorship
of a National Service program – and how this will easily be morphed into a
draft scare in the general election. One can nearly picture a Democratic ad
showing McCain vowing to stay in Iraq 100 years, humming “Bomb Iran,” and
asking, “Will McCain draft your son or daughter into Iraq?” The clincher would
be his bon mot to a teenage questioner, “You little jerk. I hope you get
However, at least New Hampshire put national security
issues – and not celebrity endorsements, sex appeal, and white racial guilt –
back at the forefront of the debate.