MANCHESTER, NH -- This time, the polls were right. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won overwhelming victories here in New Hampshire, beating out their closest rivals by double-digit margins. Here are five takeaways from last night's First in the Nation primary:
(1) A Socialist Swamp: The Democratic primary was a bloodbath. Socialist Bernie Sanders absolutely dismantled Hillary Clinton across the board, beating her by more than 20 points. In spite of heavy, desperate demagoguery, Democratic women in the Granite State sided with Sanders by double digits, led by young women. Hillary carried voters who prioritize experience and electability. Bernie blew her away among those who prize shared values, empathy, and honesty. You think Benghazi, the email scandal, opacity on Wall Street speeches, and Clinton Foundation-related ethical questions aren't taking a toll on even Democratic voters? This is breathtaking:
That screen grab of exit polling data shows Clinton getting dismantled among the 60 percent of New Hampshire Democrats who value "caring" and honesty as candidate characteristics. There's no getting around it: Her weakness on empathy and trustworthiness and -- relatedly, I believe -- among young voters are dramatic general election handicaps. So is the gender gap she inspires. Sanders beat her among women, but he in New Hampshire for quite some time. She needs to win a commanding victory in the Palmetto State to prevent a growing sense of unease from metastasizing into full-blown panic.
(2) Tremendous Trump: Donald Trump's win in the Republican primary was comprehensive. When exit polls started rolling in showing two-thirds of voters in the GOP race agreeing with his controversial temporary Muslim ban, it was clear it was going to be a good night for the bombastic businessman. When fully half of Republican voters responded that they felt "betrayed" by their own party, it was a fait accompli. Finalized exit polling tells the story of Trump's romp. He won by double digits among: Men and women, across all age groups, across all education levels (except for postgraduates, but winning nearly half of all non-college grads), across all income groups, among Republicans and independents, and among "very conservative" and "somewhat conservative" voters (also carrying moderates). He won across every issue category polled, and led the pack on every personal quality question except for "shares my values." It was a rout, aided by a crowded, splintered field. Trump enters South Carolina as a double-digit favorite. And by the way, unlike Iowa, he outperformed his public polls in New Hampshire.
(3) Rubio Rocked: Here's how I assessed the state of play yesterday: "A silver medal for Rubio here keeps him on pace to make a strong play for the GOP crown, especially as rivals continue to drop out...The field will thin out, and Rubio will take a major step closer to the three-man race he wants. Another bronze would be an under-performance, as the conventional wisdom would take root that Rubio's debate gaffe inflicted real damage, ramping up pressure to over-perform in at least one of the two remaining February nominating contests. Not good, but salvageable. But if the Florida Senator ends up in fourth place or worse, it's a catastrophe for his candidacy." Well, the Rubio campaign finds itself staring at door number three. Rubio finished fifth, although essentially in a logjam with Cruz and Bush, both of whose final polling numbers were spot on. Given what I'd heard from multiple sources about Rubio's meteoric trajectory in New Hampshire internal polling after Iowa, there is now no question whatsoever that his debate confrontation with Chris Christie hurt him. Badly. Rubio admitted as much in a strikingly humble, candid speech to supporters:
Rubio's right -- he has no one to blame but himself. He stepped into a predictable trap under the brightest of lights and dealt a serious blow to one of the central rationales of his candidacy: That he's an exceptionally gifted communicator, a quality that has allowed him to tamp down concerns about his experience. He undermined himself in a hyper-public way, at the worst possible moment. That's not on Jeb Bush's carpet-bombing SuperPAC. That's not on a pugnacious Chris Christie. That's not even on the press, which showered Rubio with praise after Iowa, then hyped his bad debate moment for days (media narratives giveth and taketh away). That's on Rubio. There's still a long road ahead, and Rubio still has a path to the nomination, albeit much narrower than it seemed 24 hours ago; the '3-2-1' strategy, which Rubio's team now tells never came from the campaign, is officially inoperative. But in order to thread this needle, he's going to have to over-perform in South Carolina and/or Nevada in order to garner any needed momentum into the crucial, delegate-heavy first half of March.
(4) Two Governors Survive, For Now: Like Jon Huntsman in 2012, Ohio Governor John Kasich more or less lived in New Hampshire for weeks, achieving a solid second place outcome (Huntsman ended up in third with a Kasichesque 16.9 percent of the vote). But Kasich still lost to Trump by roughly a two-to-one margin, and he has no real capacity to mount a national campaign moving forward. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, does. But what his team is casting as an important spring board is ultimately a fourth place finish, narrowly sandwiched between Cruz and Rubio. Try this statistic on for size:
Context: Ted Cruz spent $800k on NH airwaves. Jeb Bush's team spent $35 million.— Steve Peoples (@sppeoples) February 10, 2016
Thirty-five million dollars for fourth place, after spending a fortune in Iowa with little to show for it. Meanwhile, sixth-place finisher Chris Christie -- who, like Kasich, placed almost all of his eggs in the Granite State basket -- has announced that he's heading home to New Jersey to reassess the race. He's ineligible for this weekend's South Carolina debate, so it sounds like he's likely done. Elsewhere, Carly Fiorina (four percent) says she's carrying on past New Hampshire with a "wind at her back," whatever that means, and Ben Carson (two percent) continues to confound. The end feels near for both of them.
(5) 'Not Trump' Coalition In Disarray: The Rubio campaign desperately wanted New Hampshire to lock in their "three-man race" storyline, which would have applied immense pressure on non-Trump and non-Cruz candidates to get out of the way and give Cruz and Rubio the space to take on Trump (and each other) in a significantly winnowed field. That winnowing has now been delayed indefinitely, much to the delight of Team Trump. A crowded, distracted and confused GOP field benefits him more than anyone else, although it arguably helps Cruz, too. Cruz wants a two-man race -- and if the status quo doesn't get shaken up soon, he may get his wish. Bottom line: New Hampshire just voted for an open Socialist who literally honeymooned in the Soviet Union, and for an f-bomb-dropping nationalistic populist whose campaign is pretty well encapsulated by quotes like this:
Most Trump sentence ever: We're going to do something so good and so fast and so strong...believe me!— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 10, 2016
What a time to be alive. I'll leave you with the winners declaring victory:
UPDATE - I discussed the breadth of Trump's win with Megyn Kelly last night: