The first two contests of the 2016 presidential election are now over. What have we learned from the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary? Although there is still a long way to go before determining who will be the nominee for each party, we have actually learned quite a bit.
First of all, on the Republican side we have seen quite a bit of winnowing of the field. Starting in Iowa we lost two conservative Republicans, both of whom had previously won the Iowa caucuses -- Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. In dropping out they have pretty much ceded the evangelical Christian vote to Sen. Ted Cruz.
We also lost the strong libertarian candidacy of Sen. Rand Paul. He was a favorite early in the campaign, but in a hawkish Republican primary his views on military involvement were not deemed acceptable.
After New Hampshire we seem poised to lose Dr. Ben Carson, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and even the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. That leaves five legitimate candidates out of an original field of 17.
Real estate magnate Donald Trump won a major primary victory in New Hampshire. Yet, I am not ready to declare him the nominee of the Republican Party. His loss in Iowa proved that he is not invincible. He is now an actual candidate in this race rather than someone who stands above the fray and is essentially unassailable. Trump will now have to be vetted as every other candidate. He will have to provide concrete plans, and his ideas and plans will be subject to scrutiny as much as any other candidate.
It is important to note that Trump garnered 35 percent of the vote. Those candidates who are considered by many to represent the establishment group, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Christie tallied close to 45 percent of the vote. Ted Cruz came in a strong third (nearly 12 percent) in a state in which he was not expecting to do well. He should continue to do well across the South, beginning in South Carolina with strong support from the evangelical Christian community. If one assumes that 35 percent is something of a ceiling for Donald Trump, then this race is far from over.
One of the most interesting developments of Tuesday night was the fact that Jeb Bush, who has been struggling, ended up ahead of his protégé Marco Rubio. Rubio was seriously, perhaps even fatally damaged by the attacks of Chris Christie in New Hampshire. Unfortunately for Christie, his effective attacks on Rubio did nothing to improve his own stature among New Hampshire voters.
In a nutshell it appears that the Republican race will continue well into the summer, and some believe it may go all the way to the convention. I suspect we are going to see a governor take over as the establishment candidate. Although John Kasich came in an impressive second in New Hampshire, I don't think the states ahead look that promising for him. South Carolina should be a strong state for Jeb Bush, and believe it or not, I think we may yet be talking about another Bush being the nominee of the Republican Party for president.
The Democratic primary in New Hampshire unequivocally demonstrated that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is no longer inevitable. Yet we are also a long way from crowning Sen. Bernie Sanders as the ultimate Democratic nominee. Hillary has some serious obstacles at this point. It is phrased as the trust issue, but I believe it boils down to two things. One is the continuing email controversy. While I don t think Democrats believe this is a serious issue, many are concerned that it might be a problem for her in the general election, especially with independents.
There is also the revival of concerns about Bill Clinton's past. This especially seems to be a problem for young women. I'm not sure if they feel that because Hillary stuck with Bill she is not a true role model for women. This view of a personal decision from two decades ago seems short-sighted, but it is not clear how Hilary can overcome how people feel about either the female issue or the cloud of the email controversy.
The excitement over Sanders is real, but I think if the issues mentioned above were not around Clinton would still be leading by a large margin.
Bernie Sanders, in fact, has his own set of problems. He does not appear ready to assume all the roles that the presidency entails. He is quite weak in the area of foreign policy. His domestic policy prescriptions are far to the left of anything that is likely to be enacted in this country. He has not yet connected with minority groups that are essential to the Democratic coalition. In the general election he will be quickly portrayed as dangerous and too far out of the mainstream of American governance. His candidacy will be compared to the disastrous candidacies of Barry Goldwater and George McGovern.
If Hillary is to win this nomination, she is going to have to begin in South Carolina and Nevada to focus on the negatives inherent in a Bernie Sanders candidacy. Republicans have been quite successful in destroying each candidate who appears to be catching fire. Whether a Democrat can be as effective, we are about to see.
There is also the issue of Michael Bloomberg entering the race, but that is a topic for another day.