According to the polls, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are headed for big victories in today’s primary in New Hampshire. A lot is riding on those polls being correct in both cases. Turning intentions into actions is always a challenge in any election campaign.
Donald Trump should have learned that lesson in Idaho, where polls showed him leading by 5 to 7 points before the caucus votes. He wound up finishing second, barely ahead of third place Marco Rubio. On the other hand Bernie Sanders performance virtually matched the polling results which had him at most a point behind Clinton. His actual performance was slightly better, finishing second by a fraction of one percent.
The difference between the two results has to come down to organization. Bernie Sanders has spent a life time organizing both politically and in various social movements. Donald Trump gets his apprentices to do his organizing for him, I guess, or if his words are to believed, thinks he can win on celebrity alone.
Trump’s lead in New Hampshire is huge – at least 14 points and maybe as much as 17 over Rubio and a little more over Cruz. He is almost certainly going to win. The question for him is by how much. If he bleeds as much support as he did in Iowa, his win might be less than 10%, maybe as little as 5.
That will be claimed as a victory, of course, but it will also show the essential weakness of a ‘cult of personality’ type approach in a well-established democracy. Celebrity and name recognition can only take you so far. The example of Canada is a good one. Our current PM is the son of one of our most famous political leaders, yet it is doubtful if he could have been victorious without literally years of party re-building and grass roots organization.
If Trump fails to win by double digits, further questions will be raised about his ability to win the big race. Those questions gave hope to also-ran candidates after the caucuses and will further encourage them to hang in for a few more primaries until it is clear who can take over the lead if Trump cannot hold onto his. The aura of losing or not winning big will hang heavy on a candidate for whom winning is everything.
For the Republicans, keeping a crowded field is not necessarily a good thing. While it will keep their options open, it will also increase the internecine warfare between the remaining hopefuls – at a time when more and more Americans are starting to pay attention. A weakened candidate – Trump or some other – will face a fairly strong Democratic opposition no matter who finally takes that race (I suspect Clinton will prevail, probably by then end of March).
A race between a weakened Trump and a hard-to-elect Sanders brings another factor into play. Those are exactly the conditions that would bring Michael Bloomberg into the campaign as an independent. And that will make for a fascinating November.
But that’s ten minutes. And I’m glad to be back.