Since the modern era of presidential primaries began in 1972, the largest margin by which anyone has lost the New Hampshire primary and gone on to capture his party’s nomination is the 18.2-percentage-point defeat George W. Bush suffered at the hands of John McCain in 2000. Other than that, no one has ever lost New Hampshire by double-digits and ended up as the Republican or Democratic nominee. In that context, consider these results from last night:
Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 22 points.
Donald Trump beat the second-place Republican, John Kasich, by 19.7 points.
That’s what you call emphasis.*
Not just emphasis, but history. Even among eventual nominees, only Ronald Reagan’s 26.9-point win over George H.W. Bush in 1980 bested either Sanders’ or Trump’s margin. That year was heralded as the Reagan Revolution; Sanders is no Reaganite, but he continued to use the other R-word in a victory speech that prodded his party even further leftward than before.
Among Democrats, Sanders won every group except those 65 and older and those who make at least $200,000. (I’d say she won the groups that look like her, but he also won among women — by 11 points.) In the GOP, Trump won pluralities of every group: across ideologies, income, ages, issues, marital status, education levels. He even beat Ted Cruz among evangelicals (27 percent to 23 percent).
Say what you will about the effect of this primary going forward, and certainly things can change — as Marco Rubio found out since his debate flubs Saturday night. But that same message goes for those who say Sanders can’t win in the South, who say Trump can’t defy the laws of political gravity forever: Things can change.
Yes, Clinton still holds a big polling lead in South Carolina — but it’s also been almost three weeks since South Carolina was polled. The most consistent pollster there has been CBS News/You Gov. Here are its last three polls:
- November: Clinton 47-point lead
- December: Clinton 36-point lead
- January: Clinton 22-point lead
That’s a halving of her lead in the space of two months, and that was before Sanders virtually tied her in Iowa and shellacked her in New Hampshire. What happens if South Carolina Democrats who were with Hillary because they assumed she would win suddenly think Bernie is actually viable?
Similarly, look at the results from New Hampshire on the GOP side, which break down into three roughly similar-size groups:
- People who are not going to win South Carolina or even come in second (Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson)
- People who are fighting for second and could conceivably, but not likely at this point, win South Carolina (Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rubio)
South Carolina is of course a very different place from New Hampshire. For starters, Cruz starts off much stronger there in the polls and organizationally (and it shouldn’t be overlooked that he finished third in New Hampshire despite being outspent by Bush 62-to-1). But one or more of that trio is going to have to take votes away from Trump to defeat him. Maybe they can do it; Cruz certainly did in Iowa. But after a loss in Iowa, Trump now can make the claim that his unconventional politics can actually win. Like Sanders, that may help firm up and even win over support.
Elections are fluid affairs, and primaries all the more so because they are spread through the calendar. All those national polls for the party nominations are mostly good for entertainment because there is no national primary. Each race affects the next. Sanders and Trump aren’t inevitable, far from it. But those who support Clinton or one of the non-Trump Republicans are kidding themselves if they think New Hampshire’s results won’t reverberate over the next couple of weeks.
* Results have been, and will continue to be, updated as votes are reported.