HOPKINTON, N.H. — The outrageous billionaire. The “democratic socialist” running a scorched-earth campaign against billionaires. Winners, both of them, in this most improbable of presidential elections.
Flamboyant businessman Donald Trump won New Hampshire’s Republican primary on Tuesday night, solidifying his status as favourite for the party nomination. Left-wing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary in which he had once trailed her by 40 percentage points, establishing himself as a legitimate contender.
The triumph of the insurgent outsiders, forecast by recent polls but unimaginable just a year ago, is a momentous affirmation of American anger at the political establishment. Both Trump and Sanders ran on positions far outside the consensus of their parties’ elites. Both have almost no history in the parties they are vying to lead. Both did nothing to conceal their rage.
“We don’t want to be angry. But I said right now, I will agree, me personally and a lot of the people that are with me, we are angry,” Trump said at a New Hampshire rally on the eve of the vote.
Trump’s loss to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses last week raised questions about the devotion of his supporters and the preparedness of his campaign team. New Hampshire provided a resounding answer: he is for real, and he will be hard to beat. He holds big leads in the upcoming primaries in South Carolina and Nevada.
Sanders now confronts the challenge that could sink his campaign: earning support from people of colour, who overwhelmingly favour Clinton. The states voting in the coming weeks are far more diverse than lily-white New Hampshire and Iowa, where Sanders battled last week to a near-tie.
Whatever happens next, New Hampshire proved that his message is far from the fringes. Sanders, a gruff 74-year-old facing a former secretary of state backed by almost the entire Democratic leadership, won a wide victory railing about the “rigged economy” and calling for a “political revolution.”
“I’m just sick of the whole system. The whole thing is broken. The elections are fixed, and the American public is starting to catch on,” said Rick MacMillan, 60, a solar-power installer who voted for Sanders in the small town of Hopkinton.
“It’s like: enough already with buying elections and the rich running the country. Enough already. And I think he’s saying that,” said retiree Mary Ann Byrne, 72.
Trump made a few concessions to normalcy in response to his Iowa loss, scrambling to build a get-out-the-vote operation after months of neglect. But did not change his unorthodox style or an inflammatory message that includes open Islamophobia.
“This country don’t need another lawyer,” said retired police officer Bob Arsenault, 64, after he voted for Trump in Hopkinton. “He tells you how he feels. I’m a good ol’ Frenchman. I’ll tell you how I feel.”
“He’s the only guy that is going to be able to straighten anything out. All the rest of these people are a bunch of clowns. He’s a businessman,” said Kenneth Wilkens, 74, a retired corporate executive.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, running as a cheery compassionate conservative, was in second place in early returns, proving that there is still a substantial Republican constituency for civility and governing experience. But he will be hard-pressed to repeat his success elsewhere. While he held some 100 town hall meetings in New Hampshire, he invested only barely in other states.
Cruz, a whose religious message proved ill-suited for secular New Hampshire, finished well back of Trump. The three candidates who fared worse — former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former HP chief executive Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — will face pressure to quit.
If this was Christie’s last stand, it was consequential. His Saturday debate attack on Rubio as a speech-memorizing lightweight sent Rubio into a panicked recitation of a memorized speech, a comical gaffe that appeared to halt his momentum in the final days of the race.
New Hampshire, a high-income state of 1.3 million, has always been a unique political environment, largely moderate but with a rebellious streak. More than 40 per cent of voters identify as independent, and they often decide at the final moment which party’s primary to join. On Tuesday, it was not hard to find voters who were choosing between Sanders and Trump.
MacMillan’s wife, Patti, was torn between Sanders and Fiorina until the literal last minute. When she arrived at her polling place, a Hopkinton school, she flipped a dime. Heads. She voted for Fiorina.