Less Is More (Where GOP Candidates Are Concerned)

Posted: Feb 13, 2016 12:01 AM
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Let the winnowing begin.  The day after Donald Trump dominated the New Hampshire primary by taking 35% of the vote and ten delegates, New Jersey governor and former federal prosecutor Chris Christie and former Hewlett Packard chief Carly Fiorina dropped out. Given their poor showings in New Hampshire, Christie received 7.4% and Fiorina received just 4.1%, this was not surprising.

But their departures are a loss for the GOP nomination process. Fiorina rightly showed that feminism isn’t monolithic.  As she said in her departing remarks, “Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you're a woman. That is not feminism.”  Amen.  

Christie, a skillful debater, focused the debates on what matters – not Senate minutiae – and offered keen insights on presidential qualifications:  executive experience is one; reciting talking points is not.  Marco Rubio won’t make that mistake twice.   

Christie and Fiorina will be missed, but their departures are clarifying.  Counting those GOP candidates who dropped out after poor showings in Iowa – Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul – the GOP field has narrowed considerably, leaving only six candidates: Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson. 

Given Ben Carson’s poor result in Iowa, and even worse New Hampshire showing, 2.3% of the vote, his candidacy is all but dead; even his world class surgeon skills won’t be sufficient to resuscitate his campaign.  

So where does the GOP race go from here? 

Trump, who failed to win Iowa, won nearly every demographic category in New Hampshire (young, old, men, women, independents, Republicans, first-time voters, moderates, self-described “very conservative”), and has the momentum.  His victory Tuesday was so convincing, he will be hard to stop in the South, despite his limited campaign organization and the all-out assault from the GOP establishment. While cash is king in politics, establishment cash is proving ineffective at slowing the Trump train, as he has led most state and national polls for months, and his huge rallies confirm his popularity.  

The accomplished Ohio governor, John Kasich, took second in New Hampshire after betting the farm on his result there.  Unfortunately for Kasich, he doesn’t have much in the way of campaign organization outside the Northeast and his limited campaign funds will likely dry up soon.  Don’t be surprised if he drops out and endorses someone, possibly Jeb Bush, after South Carolina.

Ted Cruz, the skilled debater who ran an airtight and winning Iowa campaign, spent very little money in New Hampshire (less than $600,000) but came in third, winning 11.7% of the vote and taking 3 delegates.  This is a win, and he’ll carry some momentum into South Carolina, where he has an extensive campaign organization, and into the March 1 “SEC primaries,” which feature more conservative and religious voters, like Iowa.  Contrary to the wishes of many in DC, Cruz is more than a flash in the pan, and isn’t going anywhere.

Marco Rubio, the electable favorite of the non-Trump wing of the GOP, whose third place finish in Iowa was seen as a boost to his campaign, spent 30 times as much money in New Hampshire as Cruz did, almost $15 million, but finished a distant fifth, with just 10.6%.  His poor debate performance on Saturday night, when he couldn’t muster more than a Pavlovian criticism of President Obama, raised questions about his readiness and his competence, and his ability to consolidate the establishment vote shared by John Kasich and Jeb Bush.  Rubio will press on, but must do significantly better.

Jeb Bush, the successful two term Florida governor unfairly weighed down by his last name, tanked in Iowa (2.8% of the vote), but received 11% in New Hampshire for fourth place. It was a better showing to be sure, but not unexpected given the $36 million spent on his behalf and the 100 campaign events he held.  Marco’s stumble is Jeb’s bounce, and while both men’s campaigns and super PACs have booked loads of ad time in South Carolina, Jeb is stronger coming out of New Hampshire, and maybe just in time for a stronger showing in key primaries.   

On to South Carolina and the South, where the winnowing is sure to continue. 

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