Why you should care
Because shoot, this is fun to watch.
Oh, my. New Hampshire was a goodie, and I’m not just talking about the chicken tenders we demolished at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester. A tip of the cap for the Donald, who I never thought would win by such a yuge margin. And did any of us think Rubio would go so wobbly in the debate?
In any case, the hunt is on, and things are only getting more interesting. In that spirit, as we rush toward South Carolina and the third round, a few observations.
1. The Donald Is the Don
Watch out, Donald. Your rivals and the media are going to go after you with a vengeance yet unseen. They’ll pore over your personal life and parade every foible before the court of the public. Who knows: They might dredge up something that could embarrass even you, even torpedo your campaign.
And yet, from here, I have to say it looks like the Donald could win again — not necessarily the nomination, but perhaps the next primary. No, I didn’t think or write that a week ago, after he lost Iowa; in fact, I expected a strong Rubio finish in the Granite State, one that would set him up for a win in South Carolina. But no, it’s Trump who’s coasting into Carolina. Add me to the list of former doubters who is taking a moment.
2. Canary in the Coal Mine
Yes, Hillary Clinton’s team is saying that South Carolina and Black voters will be her firewall. I still think that could be true, and I still think she’ll be the nominee. But the New York Times’s Charles Blow — one of America’s leading liberal columnists, and a Black one to boot — has lately been giving me some doubts. I was surprised to see him challenge and even chastise Clinton and her campaign recently.
Blow isn’t yet feeling the Bern. But if and when he does, it could be a watershed moment that makes other liberals reconsider Sanders’s electability, much like David Geffen’s decision in 2007 to dump the Clintons for Candidate Obama. But keep in mind that Hillary may have a good presidential retort in her back pocket — not from her hubbie, but from the man who once called her “likable enough.” Yep, we’re talking about No. 44, President Obama, whom she may persuade to bring a little hope and change her way.
3. First Jewish President
With all these twists and turns, we have overlooked one of the most interesting potential “so whats” of this campaign: Somewhere between Bernie and Bloomberg, America could be in the running for its first Jewish president. Mazel tov! Sanders poked fun at his Jewishness on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, but few of the official media are pointing out that the once unthinkable, according to Bloomberg himself (ca. 2007) may actually become the most stunning 2016 result of all. Stay tuned! How could a 5-foot-7 divorced billionaire Jew possibly have a chance?
4. Ouch! Twitter Punch
In case you missed it, this week David Axelrod, the genius behind President Obama’s rise, tweeted out loud what a lot of smart people had been thinking: “When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns with different staff, at what point do the principals say, ‘Hey, maybe it’s us?’ ” Ouch. Especially the implicit call for a reset.
Impossible, you say? Hillary is who she is? Well, remember that Al Gore got a primary makeover that helped him right his ship in 2000 and best a primary challenge from Bill Bradley. Ronald Reagan similarly not only overhauled his team in 1980 after early stumbles, but also changed his own approach in order to secure the nomination and ultimately the White House. But those are exceptions. When you start stumbling as a front-runner, it is usually hard to deeply change. (See: Bush, Jeb, 2016.)
5. Besides Bloomberg
Loving the Bloomberg speculation? Well, stay close. My gut says he won’t be the only wealthy third party to poke around and see if there’s room for him at the inn. After all, if Trump versus Sanders seems likely, we may hear from former GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Remember his early feelers last year? Or, if you want to really have fun, what if former Senator and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel raised his hand and said: What about me? It might sound crazy, but so did a Trump candidacy.
6. The Runners-Up
I’m uncertain whether John Kasich has the juice to go the distance, but I still think Rubio is in it — and did a smart thing by taking ownership of his mistakes tonight. Not only might it move the story on a bit in the press, but it also allows his team to see him take responsibility in a way that, say, Jeb did not earlier in the campaign. Indeed, both Karl Rove and Jim Messina told me recently that a key ingredient to presidential wins is a strong candidate who quickly and publicly takes personal responsibility when he stumbles.
As for old Ted Cruz: What happens next? He’s coming for Trump, but it’s not clear it’ll work. Still, with Ben Carson receding, there may be more opportunity for him yet.
Finally, is there a Bush Hail Mary anywhere in sight? I like the governor and know his family is coming to South Carolina. But that kind of comeback seems a long putt from here, as they say. But shoot, this thing is fun to watch. So let’s just see.
7. What Do You Have to Say?
Last week, a number of you sent me some smart thoughts, even provocative reactions to my Letter From Des Moines. I loved it. Debbie from Des Moines, Ana from Rio and Mack from Tennessee were just a few of the folks who weighed in. I would love to hear from more of you. Where do you think the election goes from here? Will Kasich make a real run? Does anyone get out at this point? Which state will matter most post-S.C.? Send your thoughts, critiques and predictions to firstname.lastname@example.org!