MANCHESTER, N.H. A pair of protest candidates riding a message of rage against the political and economic machine have achieved an until-recently-unthinkable triumph: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have won the New Hampshire primary.
They’re barely even members of their respective political parties. But the billionaire ideological contortionist and the independent, Democrat-bashing socialist have snapped up the early primary race.
It just so happens that one’s campaign slogan calls for a political revolution; the other, Trump, took the stage to the classic-rock tune, “Revolution,” blaring from the loudspeakers as he enters a rally.
Their proposed solutions for the country are drastically different though both identified a common problem in speeches Tuesday that were less celebratory than they were rallying cries of frustration: they denounced a flow of special-interest money they blame for corrupting the country’s politics.
Sanders said the voters of this snowy state had sent a message that will reverberate as the campaign shifts to the sunnier south.
“It is just too late for the same old, same old establishment politics and establishment economist,” said Sanders.
“The people want real change.”
Elsewhere in the state, Trump noted how different his proposed fixes were from Sanders’: “He wants to give away our country, folks. We’re not gonna let it happen.”
The crowd at his victory party Tuesday was so, to employ one of his favourite adjectives, huge that people were parking alongside a nearby highway and the fire marshal ordered the entrances closed.
Analysts will now be poring over the results, examining two details: On the Democratic side, did Sanders achieve a big enough win to create enough momentum to overcome the huge mountain he faces in the next voting state?
And, among Republicans, will the mainstream forces remain split?
The answers to those two questions could determine whether the outsiders who won Tuesday are a northeastern flash-in-the-pain, or an enduring force as the primaries shift south.
The Republican brass’ nightmare scenario involves the party failing to rally around an alternative to Trump and conservative firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz.
It may be unfolding. It wasn’t immediately clear if the No. 2 finisher had managed to break the logjam. Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished second with a relatively meagre 16 per cent compared to Jeb Bush’s 11 per cent. Sen. Marco Rubio slid into a potentially campaign-crippling fifth place.
One word of caution about trusting pundits’ analysis after-the-fact: Tuesday’s events cast a considerable cloud over the track record of such prognostication.
Political cognoscenti predicted Trump would never even run, let alone win anything. Numerous opinion pieces last year speculated that his latest tease of a candidacy was just another empty, attention-grabbing gambit.
Few reporters even bothered to show up for Sanders’ campaign launch on the lawn of Capitol Hill. In the initial polls after his launch, he was behind Hillary Clinton by 40 percentage points in New Hampshire ‚Äî 51-11. That was nine months ago. He needs to repeat that same feat, within weeks ‚Äî because he faces an equally huge gap in the next state: South Carolina.
Both candidates blame a corrupt, special-interest-funded political class for selling out American workers. They diverge on how to deal with it, beyond their shared vow to rip up trade deals.
Sanders wants to expand the social-safety net to include Canadian-style health care, parental leave, and free college tuition. Trump says he’d maintain current social programs and set his sights elsewhere: on kicking out low-wage, under-the-table foreign workers.
The crowd at Trump rallies cheer promises that veer from the political left (health access for everyone, protect old-age programs, get tough on drug companies) to the right (gun freedom, military buildup, do away with political correctness and let people say, “Merry Christmas”).
There’s an out-of-use political term for such voters: Reagan Democrats. Trump’s even published a newspaper op-ed explaining how he wants to repeat Reagan’s success with working-class Democrats and independents.
In the stands at Trump’s final rally Monday, retired cop Chip Paquette explained that after admiring John F. Kennedy, voting for Ronald Reagan, then for Bill Clinton, and then becoming disgusted with the whole lot of them, he’s now big on Trump.
He wants his social-security pension protected. He wants gun rights. And he wants America to be a little more like the old days ‚Äî without all this political correctness, coddling foreigners, and people bellyaching about police brutality should a cop bop a bad guy on the nose.
Paquette revelled in Trump’s jokes.
He nudged his seat-mate to check his reaction to applause lines. One was when Trump repeated a vulgar term for female genitalia, used by an audience member to refer to opponents who oppose water-boarding.
Trump also joked about his supporters being hurt in car accidents in the evening’s blizzard ‚Äî he said he wouldn’t care, if it happened after they voted.
“He’s a little rough around the edges,” Paquette said.
“But I respect what he says. He’s telling the truth. And I don’t like the politically correct crap. Because I’m not politically correct, believe me.”
So who would Paquette support if Trump dropped out?
His reply: Bernie Sanders.
It might surprise some people that a Trump-Sanders voter exists. But another New Hampshire resident said there’s an obvious common thread running through their campaigns.
That thread is middle-class frustration ‚Äî over stagnant wages, and low-skilled jobs being lost to computers and foreigners.
“Malaise,” said Robbie Grady, at a Hillary Clinton rally.
“Somebody who seems like an outsider, who has ideas that nobody else has voiced and maybe speaks to some of the discontent, becomes very intriguing. I think it’s why Donald Trump is intriguing.”
She expressed her disapproval of Trump by miming a gagging motion, sticking her index finger into her mouth. She plans to vote for Clinton, or a moderate Republican if Sanders becomes the nominee.
She had grave doubts about both New Hampshire winners.
“(Trump) speaks to people’s fears. Bernie speaks to people’s wants. We (all) want everyone to be on a level playing field. And a lot of the things he says are really good. But I don’t see that he would have the capacity to actually get things done.”