Trump tailors his pitch to Granite State

With the “coincidence of Donald Trump’s first victory coming the night before Ash Wednesday,” asks Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter, “who can now say that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?”

While short on Christian charity, Mr. Trump displayed impressive ecumenical reach on Tuesday, winning all age groups and income levels, even winning college graduates and evangelical Christians (slightly beating Ted Cruz among the last group, according to exit polls). Mr. Winters writes,

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Trump has tapped into the deep sense of frustration and dissatisfaction many Americans feel about our politics. After four election cycles in which the campaigns were built almost exclusively on rallying each party’s base, almost no attention was spent on appeals to the center of the electorate, and voter turnout remains abysmally low, is it any wonder that a large percentage of Americans think that the politicians have all been bought?
 

Mr. Trump’s New Hampshire victory, coming after many had hoped he would slink away in defeat after Iowa, makes him a heavy favorite in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20. In a rally on Wednesday at Clemson University, he continued his heavy-metal riffs (“People are tired of stupidity, incompetence. We’re not going to have it any more.”) and he poked at the small-government conservatives that supposedly run his party, saying America needs to improve its infrastructure and that includes rail (“We’ve got trains from like, 150 years ago. We’re becoming a third world country.”) Will Sarah Palin withdraw her endorsement in light of this flirtation with a socialist mode of transit?

At one point in the rally, Mr. Trump said, “Common Core, we’re going to keep”—contradicting his earlier statements that he would eliminate the federal education standards. His campaign shrugged this off, saying that Mr. Trump had meant to say the Jeb Bush would keep Common Core. There are no gaffes in a campaign that refuses to acknowledge gaffes.

Mr. Trump’s revival alarmed not just the Republican Party establishment, but also the media establishment. The Washington Post editorialized on Wednesday, “Mr. Trump’s proposals are pernicious as well as preposterous. There is no way to round up 11 million illegal immigrants and deport them—but no one should want to live in a nation that would attempt such a thing.” The Post threw away its trademark evenhandedness in comparing Mr. Trump with the Democratic winner in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders: “We think both men are dangerously if seductively wrong in their facile diagnoses and prescription. But Mr. Sanders’s platform is at least well-meaning.”

Ezra Klein, who helped to pioneer evidence-based political journalism at the Post’s Wonkblog, wrote from his new perch at Vox.com, “Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory…. Trump doesn’t offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn’t so much that he’ll help you as he’ll hurt them.” The candidate himself probably doesn’t lose any sleep over such criticism; to use a slightly less misogynistic word than the one he recently encouraged, he might call it “wussysplaining.”

There is still the probability that Mr. Trump will hit a ceiling of support short of that required to win later primaries with fewer candidates. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy writes, “It is possible that Tuesday night will turn out to have represented the crest of the populist wave,” adding, “If you add up the votes cast for [John] Kasich, [Jeb] Bush, [Marco] Rubio, and Chris Christie (who came in sixth, with about eight per cent of the vote), it comes to about forty-five per cent, which is ten points more than Trump received.”

But there may be some wishful thinking there. New Hampshire certainly isn’t a bellwether state, but that’s mainly because its GOP primary electorate is one of the least conservative in the nation. So 45 percent for all the establishment candidates combined is not an impressively high number. The 15.8 percent given to Mr. Kasich, in second place, was less than the 16.9 percent won by Jon Huntsman in 2012, and Mr. Huntsman dropped out of the race immediately after that.

Trump swerved, Rubio didn’t

How did Mr. Trump get 35 percent in New Hampshire after underperforming polls in Iowa? In some respects, he swerved toward the left in the Granite State. He declined to denounce New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, he called for the government to strong-arm pharmaceutical companies into lowering their prices (once again earning him the wrath of the National Review), he defended the government’s power of eminent domain and in response to a question about equality for gays and lesbians, said, “We have to bring all people together, and if we don’t we’re not going to have a country anymore.” (Before the Iowa vote, Mr. Trump suggested that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the national legalization of same-sex marriage, but his comments on the topic have been so confusing that the myth-debunking site Snopes.com rated the claim “Donald Trump said he’d overturn the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision if elected president” as not true, not false, but “mixture.”)

One candidate who did not tailor his message for the state’s electorate was Marco Rubio, who once seemed ready to turn a third-place Iowa showing into second or even first in New Hampshire. Mr. Rubio’s refusal to make even the slightest feint toward New Hampshire’s more moderate electorate would be one of the biggest mysteries of the campaign if last week’s debate hadn’t revealed an apparent mental rigidity.

Mr. Rubio’s poor New Hampshire showing can be blamed on his “malfunction” during last Saturday’s debate, in which he used almost exactly the same language to make the same point four times—essentially that Barack Obama is not stupid, but evil. (“He knows exactly what he is doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.”)

But things only got worse for Mr. Rubio the day before the primary, when he repeated himself again again at a rally in Nashua: “Jeanette and I are raising our four children in the 21st century, and we know how hard it’s become to instill our values in our kids instead of the values they try to ram down our throats. In the 21st century, it’s becoming harder than ever to instill in your children the values they teach in our homes and in our church instead of the values that they try to ram down our [here he paused, apparently realizing what he was doing] throats in the movies, in music, in popular culture.” The speech may have been perfect for the crowd, but it probably didn’t help Mr. Rubio for it to played on computer screens all over New Hampshire, a relatively cosmopolitan state where New York and Hollywood aren’t routinely vilified. Nor did it help Mr. Rubio to be filmed the same day in a confrontation with a middle-aged gay man affronted by the candidate’s opposition to same-sex marriage. (“Why do you want to put me back in the closet?”)

In Iowa, entrance polls had Mr. Rubio winning among college graduates, with 28 percent to Mr. Cruz’s 25 percent and Mr. Trump’s 21 percent, a statistic that boded well for his chances in later primaries. In New Hampshire, Mr. Rubio fell to 12 percent among college graduates, far behind Mr. Trump’s 30 percent and Mr. Kasich’s 19 percent. Mr. Trump polled 42 percent among those without a college education, more than three times any other candidate.

Surprisingly, Mr. Trump got 45 percent of those in New Hampshire who said they thought life in the United States would be better for the next generation than it is today; Mr. Rubio, who had hoped to attract votes through his personal example of upward mobility, got only 11 percent. Mr. Rubio’s fumbling of the less-panicked vote is what’s causing panic in newspaper editorial rooms. 

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