How To Lose New Hampshire
New Hampshire, to believe its secretary of state, is a step above the rest. “We’re not smarter than anybody,” Bill Gardner told NPR’s Brian Naylor on Monday, referring to the state’s important electoral role. “It’s just part of the DNA of the state. It’s part of our political heritage, our culture.
The first-in-the-nation presidential primary — won by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump yesterday, each by huge margins — is a campaign crucible for presidential candidates, a theater of hand-slapping and ass-kissing that was perhaps the best theater in the world these past few months to see Chris Christie working a crowded town hall, talking about suburban opiate addiction while his lighting consultant made him look like he was in 13 Hours.
But Chris Christie did not win New Hampshire. Neither did Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio. Even late bloomer John Kasich didn’t come close.
It begs the question: How does one best lose New Hampshire?
This year’s Democratic field didn’t offer much instruction: Hillary Clinton lost, badly. Still, she holds commanding leads in Nevada and South Carolina, the only states between now and the March 1 onslaught of voting in a dozen states nationwide. A New Hampshire win wasn’t crucial, as damaging as this loss was.
The crowded Republican field — in which five professional politicians with experience in elected office clawed their way towards second place — on the other hand, offered a master class in the Art of Losing.
Chris Christie, who prioritized trudging between taverns and meeting halls across New Hampshire ahead of attending to the damage from the historic nor’easter passing over his home state, did poorly, to say the least. Even after he cursed Marco Rubio’s campaign by pointing out that, duh, politicians repeat themselves (a headline that itself was repeated ad infinitum by news outlets), Christie finished at just over seven points in the polls, ahead of Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and perhaps, at this point, his own sense of self.
Christie, certain loss in sight, went down like the brawler he is: blaming the “chattering class” for their attempts to “anoint” Marco Rubio as the establishment’s choice in New Hampshire, and emphasizing Rubio’s fall at the debate. Now, he’s dropped out. Mercifully.
Absent Christie, the group of “establishment” losers in New Hampshire sought to make their embarrassing placement behind a strawberry-skinned maniac look like a victory, at least relative to the other vanilla candidates in the race.
Jeb Bush, perhaps the worst presidential candidate in history, was in second place in New Hampshire… in August. Since then, his campaign has been a prolonged death march. Or, as Jeb described it to 450 people in Portsmouth Tuesday, “If you don’t think the pundits are right… you can reset this race tomorrow. You have that power.”
He finished fourth, with 11 percent of the vote. Or, to hear his concession speech last night, “They said that the race was now a three-person race between two freshman senators and a reality TV star. And while the reality TV star is still doing well, it looks like you all have reset the race!”
This is the Art of Losing: the obfuscation of “winning.” Jeb never defined what New Hampshire had the power to do, aside from proving the pundits wrong.
Well, here I am, begging to be proven wrong.
The assertion to be proven wrong is not that Jeb would lose New Hampshire, or that he will lose South Carolina, or Nevada. He did, and he will. Rather, it is that he is perhaps the worst presidential candidate in history. This is easier to prove wrong, if not by much. If Jeb placed second, he would have succeeded not against Donald Trump — which would be an actual success — but against a media narrative.
And Ted Cruz: “The talking heads of the Washington insiders were confident that our wave of support would break against the rock of the Granite State. That a conservative, we were told, could not do well in the state of New Hampshire. We were told that over and over again and tonight the men and women here in all across this great state proved them wrong.”
Or, as the Bustle article summarizing his speech put it: “Ted Cruz’s New Hampshire Speech Shows Why Third Place Is Still A Win.”
No, it’s not, Bustle!
Even John Kasich, the Ohio governor whose cheerful, folksy centrism (at least relative to his colleagues) gave him the a crucial second chance at the race, muddied the waters with biblical prose: “Tonight,” he told his assembled supporters at a party last night, “The light overcame the darkness of American campaigning.”
No, it didn’t, John Kasich. It’s a helpful narrative for the rest of February, but not a realistic one.
After all, the Republican who actually won New Hampshire by 20 points — our own special blend of Silvio Berlusconi, the insecurities of a recently-rebuked toddler, and Stalin — needed no spin at all. Donald Trump has no narrative, and he’s never needed one, walking exclamation point as he is.
There is an art to losing without Losing. It is the art of forgetting what it means to win in a democracy; forgetting the actual votes of actual voters and replacing them with enough statistical snobbery and hucksterism to convince people that their single vote may count, yes, but it’s nothing compared to “the narrative.”
In this case, “the narrative” requires hauling the dead weight of too many candidates much farther than they have any right being hauled. It requires ignoring the realities of a split anti-Trump vote and pushing forward as if the anti-Trump sentiment abound in the Republican Party is really an affinity for any specific candidate, even if some of it is.
All presidential campaigns have narratives, it’s part of politics. This time around, though, the narratives may just elect Donald Trump.
Photo: Fox News staff rush additional podiums into place for those participating in the main event for top polling candidates that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced he was withdrawing from, in Des Moines, Iowa January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria