Avowed 'democratic' socialist Bernie Sanders and unashamed arch-capitalist Donald Trump were the big winners in today's New Hampshire presidential primary. The Sanders win will lead to a huge, albeit probably temporary, loss of confidence for the Hillary Clinton campaign while there is now even less certainty about who, if anyone, can challenge Trump for the Republican nomination later this year.
What mattered most in the Democratic contest was the winning margin, with Sanders besting Clinton by more than 20 percentage points, according to latest indications, and gaining a resulting preponderance of delegates. He has proved himself a formidable opponent for the former secretary of state who was long thought to have the nomination sewn up.
In the Republican field, the identity of the second place-getter was of the most interest. Here, unheralded moderate John Kasich's return of about 16% of the vote was not unexpected in the somewhat atypical and nationally unrepresentative New Hampshire electorate. However, the strong showing by Kasich is still a big setback for other GOP candidates who sought a confidence and momentum boosting surprise as Trump consolidates. This is particularly the case for Marco Rubio, who came in fifth with barely 10% of the vote.
In fact, save for the worse-than-predicted Rubio performance — possibly a result of his cringeworthy showing in the last debate before the vote — the results on both sides of the political divide largely belied the reputation of New Hampshire as a graveyard of pollsters.
In comparing the two results, it's clear that Clinton is being punished for several years of what seemed like ineluctable electability. She must often look wistfully at the still massive and divided Republican field that dilutes opposition to Trump.
Clinton's enduring popularity with non-white voters in much of the rest of the country is still expected to carry her through to November's election, but her cosiness with Wall Street is hurting her campaign. There is also the continuing saga of her use of private email while secretary of state. The Sanders campaign has refused to exploit this as an election issue, but it may not have to with the FBI on the case. Regardless, Clinton is still given a quite incredible 80% chance of winning the Democratic nomination according to collated betting odds.
Turning, as all things inevitably must, to Trump, the New Hampshire result has seen his chance of winning the GOP nomination reach 42%, according to those same betting odds. This must come close to confirming the worst nightmares of many mainstream Republicans and others outside the camp.
Yet still many pundits nurse a statistics-defying belief that some sense of normalcy will eventually return. This would take the form of an establishment candidate — likely Rubio, a somehow resurgent Jeb Bush, or even the hyper-conservative Ted Cruz, who is at least an experienced politician — seeing off the other challengers and mounting a sustained challenge against the frustratingly popular and id-driven New York billionaire.
So, as the Nevada caucus and the South Carolina primary beckon for the Democrats and Republicans respectively, it is essentially still all to play for. Nonetheless, there are two potential major developments on the horizon that could shake up both contests in the near future.
The first is the possibility that former New York City mayor and businessman Michael Bloomberg will run for president as an independent, seeking to capitalise on the loss of faith many voters have expressed in both mainstream political machines. As well as sitting outside the process altogether, the centrist Bloomberg (who confirmed this week he is considering a run) combines what are considered to be the more appealing elements of the various existing candidates, including the self-funded campaigning ability and business bona fides of Trump, and the socially progressive leanings of Clinton and Sanders. The increasing momentum for this campaign could prove destabilising for red and blue voting blocs alike.
The second potential disruption is the growing chaos in global financial markets and the looming threat of a worldwide recession. This recalls the closing stages of the 2008 presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain. With the global financial crisis still unfolding, Obama, already in the ascendancy, was able to effectively portray the Republican party as culpable through policies that had favoured deregulation of financial markets.
Should the instability continue to mount and exact a heavy toll on Americans — there are already signs of a jobs slowdown — there is a chance it could have a dramatic impact on the narrative of the primaries, and likely the election. As compared to 2008, however, the culprits will not so easily be identified. Sanders could make a case against Clinton's Wall Street ties while the Clinton camp could warn about the risk of dallying with socialism in uncertain times. On the Republican side, Trump will no doubt continue to champion his job-creating credentials while the likes of Rubio and Cruz could double down on conservative ideology.
So, just as the waters seem to be clearing, there is a potential for plenty of muddying yet.
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