Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, two staunch critics of America’s political establishment on the right and left, scored decisive victories in the first national primary election of this year’s contest for president of the United States.
Trump’s 19-point win over his nearest challenger in the New England state of New Hampshire removed any doubts that the billionaire hotel mogul and reality TV celebrity is seriously positioned to become the Republican party’s presidential nominee. That prospect, however, presents a nightmare scenario for the Republican establishment because of Trump’s inflammatory, polarizing views, bombastic rhetoric and role as the most prominent, attention-grabbing outsider in the presidential race. No one else on either side has garnered headlines the way Trump does, such as when he jokingly proclaimed at a recent campaign rally that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue (in the heart of New York City) and shoot somebody” without losing any voters.
At least as striking as Trump’s New Hampshire showing was Sanders’ overwhelming win in his uphill battle for the Democratic party’s nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. With 92% of the New Hampshire vote counted, the self-described Democratic Socialist and U.S. senator from the neighboring state of Vermont received 60% to just 38% for Clinton. It was a devastating setback for Clinton, who had defeated Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary during their 2008 confrontation. Obama ultimately won the nomination and went on to become America’s president for the past seven years.
Against Sanders, Clinton from the outset was heavily favored in her quest to become America’s first woman president. But Sanders’ progressive message, focused on economic inequality, especially Wall Street’s big business interests, connected with a solid majority of New Hampshire voters and fueled a record turnout at the polls. While Clinton defeated him by the narrowest of margins in the state of Iowa’s caucus process a week earlier, the 74-year-old Sanders trounced his renown opponent with virtually all segments of New Hampshire’s Democratic electorate. Data drawn from voters leaving the polls showed Sanders received 83 percent of millennial ballots, largely from New Hampshire’s college towns, and he even carried the women’s vote (55% to 44%).
In the raw count, Sanders topped Clinton by 50,000 votes. With more Democrats than Republicans registered in New Hampshire, Sanders’ 139,000 votes were about 46,000 more than Trump’s total.
Despite Clinton’ dismal performance, she is expected to bounce back in upcoming primary elections. The next two are in South Carolina and Nevada, states that are more diverse with sizeable African American and Latino populations whereas New Hampshire and Iowa are largely white. The Clinton campaign moved swiftly, even before the polls closed in New Hampshire, to emphasize how popular she is with minorities in larger states, notably Illinois, Texas and Florida. Those primaries will be in March. But Sanders is currently seeking to cut into Clinton’s minority vote lead with his progressive agenda on social and criminal justice reform.
On the Republican side, Trump’s supporters include much of his party’s conservative base along with some disillusioned Democrats and independents — mostly angry white working people who long for America’s “good old days.” But much of the Republican establishment is concerned that his candidacy could doom the party’s hopes of regaining the White House from the Democrats in November’s general election.
Trump has promoted harsh immigration restrictions aimed at Muslims, advocated deporting all 11 million illegal residents, has belittled most of his opponents and offended women, minorities and former prisoners of war with brutally blunt rhetoric. He even resorted to a gesture mimicking a handicapped New York Times reporter who didn’t back up Trump’s unfounded claim that “thousands upon thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the collapse of New York’s world trade towers during the catastrophic Sept. 11, 2001 attack by terrorists using airliners.
It would be “a disaster” for the party in the general election if Trump emerges as the Republican nominee, contended one of his best known challengers, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, whose father and brother are former American presidents.
Bush was one of two establishment candidates with respectable finishes in New Hampshire’s primary. The more impressive of the two was John Kasich, whose positive message and strong record as Ohio’s governor enabled him to run second to Trump with 16% of the vote. Kasich also ran comfortably ahead of the third-place finisher, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz upset Trump in the Iowa caucuses and remains a formidable candidate, especially with Christian evangelicals and hard right conservatives. But in New Hampshire, Cruz barely edged past Bush — 12% to 11% — with both expected to perform well along with Trump in the extremely competitive South Carolina primary.
After a surprisingly strong third-place finish in the Iowa primary, Florida Senator Marco Rubio ended up fifth in New Hampshire, dimming the hopes of many establishment Republicans that he might emerge as the nominee. Rubio’s stock with voters apparently plummeted after a dismal showing in the candidates’ debate three days before the New Hampshire primary. Rubio was taunted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over his thin resume as a freshman senator, readiness to be president and for repeatedly reciting his talking points during the debate. While Christie was credited for slamming the brakes on Rubio’s rise in the Republican field, the New Jersey governor himself finished a disappointing sixth in New Hampshire with just 7% of the vote.
Speaking to his supporters in New Hampshire, Rubio took the blame for his poor debate performance, vowed to his supporters it would never happen again and maintained he would rebound in South Carolina. In contrast, Christie returned to New Jersey and was expected to suspend his campaign. Carley Fiorina, the only woman candidate for the Republican nomination, announced she was halting her campaign. Business executive Fiorina finished seventh with 4% of the New Hampshire vote.
Trump received 35% of the New Hampshire vote, then delivered a spirited victory speech before a large gathering of backers. If elected, he promised to become “the greatest jobs president that God ever created” and would “knock the hell out of ISIS, the Islamic state.
Earlier in the day, Trump told an MSNBC interviewer it would cost $8 billion to build the wall he has called for along the border with Mexico. The wall would be designed to keep out everyone seeking to cross the border illegally, a proposal that has widespread support among Trump’s followers. He says the wall should run 2,000 miles along the border and insists Mexico would pay for it in order not to lose the subsidies that the country receives from the U.S. Calling it ridiculous, Mexican officials have dismissed the notion that they would pay for the wall.