STATESBORO, GEORGIA – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire.
Imagine if you could travel back in time a year and speak that sentence to your former self. You’d think you were speaking to a doppelganger from an alternate dimension gone awry.
In May of last year Sanders trailed Secretary Hillary Clinton by as many as forty-four points and John Ellis Bush led a Trumpless field by nearly double-digits. The difference in these realities is so staggering it feels almost impossible to unpack exactly what has happened in the previous seven months, at least in any sort of coherent way. Even more astounding, perhaps, is the fact that these two outliers, these two rebels, won a state that has prided itself for decades in breaking and resetting the presidential race, with historic margins no less, and yet, I can’t stop pacing the halls or debating myself. Because when it comes down to it, that’s not even the story of the night.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, is the first Jewish politician to win a primary state.
Let’s try that again.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, is the first non-Christian of any denomination to win a primary state.
Tonight, on the heels of his rival’s concession speech, Sanders took the podium and basked in what must’ve been the most satisfying moment of his long career. For anyone who’s followed his campaign, the speech wouldn’t have been surprising. This was pure Sanders stump, a rallying cry for a political revolution with a focus on unrigging the system and leveling the economic playing field. And why change what’s obviously working? Sanders has built his campaign from the ground up. He’s gone from addressing a crowd of roughly two dozen journalists to standing on the brink of an actual insurrection that could change how our country does business forever. If he pitches a perfect game, and he very well could, Bernard Sanders, a self-avowed socialist, could win the presidency of These United States.
In order to pull that unbelievable upset though, he’ll have to best one of the most qualified and formidable politicians in American Political History. And he’ll have to do it with her full attention, a gaze he hasn’t felt the awesome power of until just a week and a half ago, and now, that stare is firmly in place.
Clinton’s speech tonight was a confession and an apology. This was Clinton admitting that she’d misjudged this contest, much like she famously misjudged the conflagration that became the Obama Movement in 2008. And just as she recognized her opponent’s potential then, she now sees Sanders for the worthy rival he is. The remarks were an admission of loss, a concession in which she gave a nod to the left lane of the Democratic party, calling for campaign-finance reform, Wall Street regulation, and, surprise, surprise, a recalibration of the economy.
For the past month or so this campaign has floundered and stalled as Clinton played defense with her lead instead of marching forward. With rumors of a campaign shakeup tomorrow, and more changes sure to precede South Carolina and Super Tuesday, this was a candidate with vision and fight, a fight that many have forgotten she possesses. Underestimate her at your own risk. Barack Obama, a once-in-a-lifetime politician and phenomena, made the mistake of thinking he had Hillary whipped after Iowa and was quickly rebuked in the Granite State just a week later. She stayed step-for-step with him afterward and nearly bested one of the most naturally gifted campaigners we’ll ever see.
The thing that remains to be seen is whether Sanders is up to the challenge. Clinton’s going nowhere and in South Carolina she’ll likely run up the score. Can Sanders take this newfound legitimacy and transform his campaign from an insurgency into a movement? Many think they’re one in the same, but the difference is that one is focused on an end and the other shoots past the destination. If Sanders can only diagnose the disease and neglect the cure, where does that leave him?
An asterisk in the dust, that’s where.
But if he’s worthy of challenging Clinton, and so far it seems like he is, we might be on the eve of one of the most fascinating and special contests in primary history.
Trump took the stage and thanked everyone in his eye line. Then he pointed to the heavens and thanked those who weren’t there.
“I think Mom and Dad are looking down,” he said. “And they’re so proud.”
He was obviously touched as he left behind the bluster and bombast that vaulted him into the limelight of made-for-primetime cable news nirvana. With a win tonight he solidified a fever dream that most Americans believed would break before any damage was done.
Trump is a joke.
Trump will fall.
We waited and we waited and now we’re here. There’s no more waiting because Donald Trump carried the state of New Hampshire and he’s back in the driver’s seat as the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party.
His win is not just miraculous, it’s inexplicable. Not only has he defied expectations, he’s literally chiseled a Trump-shaped hole in the political landscape and sauntered through without so much as a scratch.
As long as he stays in the race, and as long as his rivals fight over well-trodden ground, he is the probable winner of this race. And he knows it. My god, does he know it. Tonight’s speech, and this was an echo of his much more somber Iowa concession, he deftly piloted his campaign into centerish waters. Now that he’s done calling Ted Cruz a pussy and promising to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, Trump will have a brief fling with the fringe in South Carolina, a state that loves the fringe, before rolling out his general election self.
Fighting him will be the so-called Establishment Wing of the Republican Party, a veritable wasteland of tossed-aside talents and presumed heavyweights. Chris Christie, fresh off ruining Marco Rubio’s life, is heading back to New Jersey to euthanize his campaign. John Ellis Bush, heir to the Republican throne, is alive, but just barely. Rubio has been whipped within an inch of his life and his weakness exposed for the world to see. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are as done as candidates who are only doing this for book deals and radio shows can be done. There is just Trump and Cruz and…Kasich?
Who would’ve thought even a week ago that John Kasich, Governor of Ohio and presidential afterthought, would find his way through the scrum and secure a strong second place finish and propel himself into clean air?
It took a lot to get there. Trump and Cruz massacring each other. Christie eviscerating Rubio on live television and Rubio reverting back to Grab That Offscreen Water Rubio. A media tired of the Trump Phenomenon and obsessed with finding The Rationale Alternative as long as that alternative isn’t named Cruz.
His speech tonight wasn’t the rousing war cry of Clinton or even Rubio’s misplaced victory after taking third in Iowa. This was a subdued and calm candidate, a man who recognized his even-keelness is his greatest strength, a recognition that couldn’t be more right. As business leaders can tell you, the smartest thing you can do is test the winds of prevalent thought and chart course in the opposite direction. Kasich tonight, and for the past few months, has been the antidote to the violence of Trump and the apocalypse of Cruz. As he said tonight, “When people come to my town halls, they feel safe.”
Safe. A term that plays well for anyone who hears it. For the true believers, Kasich means safe from the travesty of Obama. For the moderates, he means the poison of the far-right. In this appeal, he’s the most dangerous candidate the GOP’s got.
Starting tomorrow though, Kasich inherits the target that buried Bush, Cruz, and Rubio. He’s now a contender who’ll garner his fair share of ordinance from the establishment favorites. Bush and Rubio, who probably has seventy-two hours to correct his trajectory or lose his future altogether, will call him a moderate, a fake conservative who embraced same-sex marriage as recently as two months ago. Trump will let him go as long as he doesn’t venture too close to his lead, but after that: all bets are off.
Can Kasich take a punch? We don’t know. Some say he’s soft. This is the governor, by the way, who watched a chunk of Fargo and demanded all Blockbusters remove it from their shelves. He’s a career politician and does better with bureaucracy than he does the stump. Chances are he isn’t up to the task, but let’s imagine, just for a second that he is.
We’ve got forty-eight nominating contests to go and nine months from the general election. A lot can change with time. Everything can change with time.