Four takeaways from the New Hampshire primary
During my Washington glory days, my friends and I often sought refuge in a bar on the top of the splendid Willard Hotel. From its majestic peak, we could look down on Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Building and, if you stood just the right way, even make out the White House itself. This neglected spot (and I surely hope it still exists) allowed me to talk to high-level Washington people in complete confidence without being seen, enabling us to be candid about what was going on in the country politically. To save time, we would play the game “Four Takeaways,” briefly summarizing what we thought had just occurred. It strikes me — just after the results of the Democratic New Hampshire primary landed but ahead of the upcoming Nevada caucus, South Carolina primary and “Super Tuesday” contests across the country (where fully a third of all delegates are chosen for their convention) — that now is an ideal time for us to play this old and valuable game.
First, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is going to be one of the two final Democratic candidates for president, having bested his progressive rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to become the standard bearer of the party’s left wing. Unlike the political chaos enveloping the more moderate wing of the party, Sanders has put away Warren, his progressive rival.He tied for first (with moderate former mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana) in Iowa and outright won in New Hampshire, while Warren finished a disappointing third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire. Warren’s inability to explain how she would pay for her desired massive government expansion into the health care market without raising taxes on the middle class doomed her (the simple answer is, you can’t), whereas Sanders refreshingly honestly said taxes would have to go up. Sanders’ clarity has defeated Warren’s obfuscations, allowing him to claim the mantle of the left.
Second, in contrast, the moderate wing of the party is a car crash, with inconclusive results hamstringing efforts to take on Sanders. Like Wizard of Oz characters, each of the moderate Democratic candidates for president is missing something vital.
Buttigieg, who has outperformed by jointly winning in Iowa and coming in a strong second in New Hampshire, has had a terrible time courting African-American voters, who form the backbone of the party and are its most loyal constituents. It is hard to see where he goes from here, as the coming races more accurately represent the true diversity of America.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota surprised with a strong third place finish in New Hampshire (she did less well in Iowa), but has little campaign infrastructure moving ahead and low name recognition. It will be a great challenge for her to quickly build on her recent debate prowess.
And let’s spare a moment to pity former Vice President Joe Biden. The old war horse has lost an intellectual step on the campaign trail and his dismal results confirm he is simply not connecting with younger, white, urban and more left-wing voters. After a disastrous start in Iowa (he came a poor fourth) and an even worse result in New Hampshire (coming in fifth) he has retreated to his stronghold of South Carolina, which has a disproportionate share of African-American voters — his core constituency, who remain sympathetic to the man who served as Barack Obama’s wingman. Anything less than a decisive win there would surely signal the end of Biden’s once-promising campaign.
Third, moderate billionaire Mike Bloomberg is waiting in the wings. Bloomberg has already spent a whopping $300 million on campaign advertising in Super Tuesday states, which vote on March 3 in what amounts to an almost national primary, as population-dominant Texas and California cast their ballots on the same day.
Intellectually, in terms of political risk analysis, Bloomberg has been spot-on. For late-starting Bloomberg to have any chance at all, Biden had to falter, leftist (and feared unelectable) Sanders had to rise, and no unifying moderate alternative had to present itself. All of this has undoubtedly happened, giving Bloomberg a real outside shot to snatch the nomination from nowhere.
Like Wizard of Oz characters, each of the moderate Democratic candidates for president is missing something vital.
Dr. John C. Hulsman
But Bloomberg is deeply uncharismatic (and even arrogant) in a party that likes to fall in love with its candidates (see the Kennedy brothers, Bill Clinton and Obama). Even more damning, Bloomberg is the quintessential plutocrat in a party that increasingly despises “the 1 percent.” It is hard to see him squaring these inconvenient truths.
Fourth, all this means Donald Trump is likely to win re-election. Running against the socialist Sanders would guarantee the president victory. However, even if the moderates quickly coalesce around an alternative who has the time to beat him, the key political question becomes would disillusioned Sanders voters — probably believing the nomination had been “stolen” from their idol — unanimously fall in line to vote for the person who had just dashed their hopes?
Sanders winning the nomination is Trump’s dream, but Sanders losing it is almost as good, for everything that has happened politically over the past few weeks makes it more than likely that 2020 will see Trump again shock the world.
- Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via www.chartwellspeakers.com.