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Let’s face it, Trump is the GOP frontrunner and crushed the field in New Hampshire

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has exposed Hillary Clinton’s serious weaknesses.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at his 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary night rally in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday night.
REUTERS/Jim Bourg

I have little or nothing brilliant to add to whatever analyses you have seen of the New Hampshire primary results. So I’ll just list a few thoughts and impressions. I won’t pretend there is much that could be called “substance” to the results. For the moment, we’re in pure horserace territory.

Of course, the big winners were Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Also John Kasich, but not as big. If any of them go on to get their respective nominations, we’ll look back on New Hampshire as a key takeoff point. If they falter, we’ll come up with a way of explaining Tuesday night away.

Trump didn’t just win for the first time in his nascent political career. He crushed the field, more than doubling the vote of his nearest competitor. The brief talk, after his second-place finish in Iowa, that maybe his long, huge lead in the polls will not translate at the actual ballot box, will be over, unless and until he underperforms expectations somewhere else.

This win was huge. From where we stand now, it’s pointless to call anyone other than Trump the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. According to the three most recent polls in South Carolina (the next state on the schedule), he leads by 14, 19 and 16 points, in all three cases with Ted Cruz in distant second place.

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In his remarks, Trump was gracious, by Trumpian standards, and didn’t insult anyone except perhaps the intelligence of his supporters with statements like this:

“We are going to do something so good and so fast and so strong that the whole world is going to respect us again, believe me…”

“So look, in a nutshell, we’re going to make great trade deals. We’re going to rebuild our military. It’s going to be so big, so strong, so powerful, nobody is going to mess with us. Believe me. Nobody. Nobody.”

“We going to knock the hell out of ISIS, and believe me, it’s going to be done the right way. We’re going to take care of the economy. We’re going to take care of jobs. We’re going to do all the things I said.”

Trump may also benefit by another part of Tuesday’s result. None of the so-called establishment candidates did well enough to force the others to drop out. Chris Christie hinted that he might. The other three “establishment candidates” — Kasich, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — will all definitely stay in for a while yet. The longer they divide up that portion of the primary electorate, the better for Trump.

Kasich, obviously, is listed among the winners because he finished a fairly strong second place, with a few points gap between himself and the rest of the field. For a guy who has been an asterisk for most of the race, this is big. For the moment, he either surpasses or joins Rubio as a name to mention when the discussion continues about which “establishment” candidate will make it to the final rounds.

Sanders and Clinton

As for Sanders, his victory margin of 22 points was epic. Yes, he was expected to win and Hillary Clinton has a huge lead in recent polls for the next primary state of South Carolina. If Clinton wins big there on Feb. 27, it would undo much of the damage she has taken in New Hampshire. If that lead starts to evaporate, her aura of inevitability will disappear. (I should mention that before South Carolina are the Nevada caucuses, where Clinton also has led in the polls, but the polls are way out of date.)

Yes, Sanders comes from neighboring Vermont and was always expected to win. But Clinton had cut Sanders’ lead in recent polls to as low as 9 percent. He more than tripled that. Yes, New Englanders have often benefitted from a home-court advantage in New Hampshire. Impressively, a New Englander has won that primary four times out of the last eight cycles in which no incumbent president was up for renomination. But the margins (John Kerry by 12 points in 2004, Paul Tsongas by eight in 1992, Michael Dukakis by 16 in 1988 and Ed Muskie by nine in 1972) all pale compared to Tuesday’s staggering Sanders margin.

Tuesday night’s big losers were Clinton and Rubio. A strong second-place showing in New Hampshire, after his strong third place in Iowa, would have cemented Rubio’s place as the likeliest “establishment” candidate to take on Trump. His fifth-place finish Tuesday was reasonably close to Bush in fourth, but he trailed Kasich by more than five points and netted zero delegates for his showing. To his credit, Rubio told his supporters that the poor showing was his fault, for blowing it in the debate Saturday night. Of course, saying this is also calculated to make him look humble and honest. But I don’t care. Good move.

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Devastating exit polls for Clinton

I already wrote about the sheer size of the Sanders-Clinton margin. Some of the details of the exit polls were devastating. The age and gender breakdowns showed her with almost no demographic segments of strength. Sanders won a majority among women voters. Clinton carried a majority only among women 65 and older, but Sanders won all other age groups and his margin among the 18-29-year-olds was a staggering 85-14. Clinton scored poorly on the question of whether voters viewed her as “honest and trustworthy,” and this was the quality that a plurality of Democrats said was most important to them. Sanders bested Clinton among all income groups except those above $200,000.

Clinton and Sanders were both gracious in their post-election speeches to their followers and spoke generally kindly of one another. The closest I heard to a veiled shot by Sanders against Clinton was perhaps this:

“I am going to New York City tomorrow, but not going to hold a fundraiser on Wall Street.”

The closest to a shot by Clinton against Sanders was perhaps this:

“People have every right to be angry. But they’re also hungry. Hungry for solutions.”

Trump actually tried to be gracious to Sanders, congratulating him on his big win. But when the crowd booed the mention of Sanders, Trump added: “He wants to give away the country.”

Last point, although I’ve said it before: It’s silly to allow a couple of small states, or any two states, even if they were different than Iowa and New Hampshire, to occupy the space of special interest and attention in the nominating process every cycle.