Sanders and the Republican Establishment in New Hampshire?

Bernie Sanders could be the key to whether an establishment Republican candidate emerges with any strength coming out of New Hampshire in February.

Wha?

That’s right – Bernie Sanders’ strength as a campaigner over the next month may well have an impact on the Republican race.  Among the rules that are left unsaid around this time of year is that Iowa does a middling-to-poor job of choosing Republican nominees, whereas it has done a pretty good job of choosing Democratic nominees.  For the Republicans, think back to 2012 – not Santorum, but Romney; 2008, not Huckabee, but McCain; 1988, not Dole, but Bush; 1980, not Bush, but Reagan.  For the Democrats, let’s remember that Carter emerged from Iowa in 1976; Mondale won there in 1984; Gore in 2000; Kerry in 2004; and Obama in 2008.

New Hampshire, on the other hand, is where Republican nominees frequently find their footing – Romney, 2012; McCain, 2008; Bush, 1988; Reagan, 1980 – especially where a more hard-line conservative wins in Iowa.  In those years, New Hampshire acts as the counteracting force.

But New Hampshire has another wrinkle to it.  Undeclared voters, i.e., those who are not registered in either the Republican or Democratic Party, may vote in either primary.  So in order to read the tea leaves, it is important to look at the dynamic on both sides.  They currently represent approximately 40% of the New Hampshire electorate.  In 2008, the last-minute shifting of independents may have been the decisive factor in handing the nomination to John McCain after he had been declared a dead-man walking in the fall of 2007.  When Barack Obama emerged as the surprise winner of the Iowa Caucus in 2008 (remember, many pundits had Edwards edging out Clinton in a close race), it in effect took some pressure off of independent voters to find their “anybody but Clinton” – Clinton didn’t win.  Meanwhile, conservative Mike Huckabee did win in Iowa, which sent independents in New Hampshire to find their establishment pick.  I haven’t seen any stats on it, but I’m willing to guess that more independents broke to vote in the Republican primary after Huckabee’s win in Iowa, and that this last-minute break gave an advantage to McCain.

How does this all play in 2016 race?  I’m not willing to make any predictions, but I think it’s worth thinking about the dynamics of independent voters in New Hampshire.

Right now, Cruz and Trump seem to be running a tight race in Iowa, and that could truly go either way.  If Trump wins, it is possible that the result in Iowa will have little effect on New Hampshire, where Trump is ahead in double digits in the latest poll.  A conservative Cruz victory, on the other hand, might drive more independents into the Republican primary.

But what is more interesting is the Bernie Sanders quotient, especially when one considers the theory that Sanders and Trump – from opposite sides of the aisle, loosely speaking, since neither is a true party regular – are both tapping into the same base of dissatisfied voters.  They are much more similar as candidates in terms of their economic populist, anti-partisan, anti-establishment spirit than they are different – especially if you are looking at them through the lens of an independent voter.

Sanders is a New Englander, which gives him a huge edge in New Hampshire.  Clinton looks like she has a lock on Iowa, so the anti-Clinton voters among the independents in New Hampshire may have a greater interest in breaking for the Democratic primary in New Hampshire to support Sanders.  Current polls show Clinton winning there, too – which is why the next month is key for Sanders.  Can he make a strong closing enough argument to New Hampshire independents to attract them to the Democratic primary?  As a vote against the establishment?

If he does, then the New Hampshire primary will lean more to the Republican base, which might very well favor an establishment candidate.  Trump still holds a good lead in New Hampshire, but is helped there by a fractured lineup of establishment Republican candidates, all clustered together in the latest polls – Rubio, Christie, Kasich and Bush.  If Sanders takes independents to the Democrats, the party regulars may be left in New Hampshire with enough juice to propel one of those establishment candidates into the challenger position against Trump.  Today it is still difficult to see who might emerge – and perhaps the establishment field is too fragmented for this dynamic to have any effect at all – but regulars could well galvanize around Rubio or Christie at the last minute, making one of them look like a credible alternative.  If Cruz wins in Iowa and Trump wins only weakly in New Hampshire, there’s still an opening for a Rubio or a Christie if they show surprisingly well in New Hampshire.

Perhaps the establishment PACs would do well to throw some pro-Sanders ads into the mix in New Hampshire …

Ben Carson on the Rapture

“Carson was recently put in the position of reassuring voters that yes, he does believe in a Rapture, just not the exact same Rapture as other evangelicals.”  OK, but does he believe there’s an Antichrist in the Democratic field?