The outsider on Tuesday cemented his dominant position in the GOP presidential race, with Donald Trump scoring a huge win in the New Hampshire Republican primary while the Establishment’s hope to unite behind a single candidate collapsed.
Facing seven challengers, Trump smashed the lot, taking 35 percent of the vote. His next nearest rival was Ohio Gov. John Kasich at 16 percent. Incomplete returns put Texas Sen. Ted Cruz solidly in third, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in fourth and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio a few hundred votes behind in fifth.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie limped in at 8 percent, and went home to mull whether he’ll continue in the race, while Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson finished with 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
Going into the nation’s first primary, political pundits said party insiders and donors hoping to prevent the 2016 contest from developing into a Trump vs. Cruz contest would need to rally behind one champion. That didn’t happen. The strong finishes by Establishment candidates Kasich and Bush were illusory. New Hampshire ensured that the pair, along with Rubio, will stay in the fight and continue to divide the Establishment vote.
Tuesday’s result will likely put the entire Establishment world, already rattled repeatedly by the resilience of Trump and Cruz, into full-blown panic.
After the Iowa caucuses, Rubio garnered massive media attention for his outperformance of the polls. The buildup of Rubio momentum headed out of Iowa coincided with greater Establishment support. Establishment-aligned Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania leaped off the 2016 sidelines and threw their support behind their fellow senator in the swell of his post-Iowa ascendency.
Rubio Takes the Blame for Disappointing NH Finish[lz_jwplayer video=”34t9uCll” ads=”false”]
The major donors of the Establishment, particularly from the financial sector, also appeared to abandon Bush in a sudden swoon of Marcomentum. But after a painful debate gaffe — which led to hecklers dressed as robots — and the first in the nation primary debacle, the Establishment consensus around Rubio is in shambles.
Iowa winner Cruz, meanwhile, rocked the New Hampshire expectations game, beating Bush and Rubio for third place in a state with all the dynamics stacked against him. Cruz spent just under $800,000 in the Granite State, compared with double-digit millions from the Bush camp.
The last poll numbers in South Carolina weave an even more worrying tale for opponents of Trump and Cruz. The most recent survey puts Trump and Cruz at 36 and 20 percent, respectively. Behind the two leaders are Rubio, with 14 percent, and Bush, with 9 percent. Kasich notched just 1 percent in the poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal.
Trump Basks in Big NH Win[lz_jwplayer video=”JCESq7OO” ads=”false”]
Trump, by virtue of his blowout New Hampshire victory — and Cruz on the back of a better than expected showing — will land in the Palmetto State with momentum. After the dismal night for Rubio, his power may fade quickly and his lost support could scatter to Bush and Kasich.
The major donors of the Establishment will now face a final, tough choice: Either swing their support back to Bush and hope to bury Rubio and Kasich in South Carolina, or accept one of the outsiders and embrace the inevitability of a two-man race headed into the southern leg of the GOP nomination contest. That battle could leave the two outsider titans to battle each other for the ultimate prize.
The polls had barely closed in New Hampshire when Cruz came out swinging hard against Trump.
“We wouldn’t tolerate these values in our children. Why would we want them in our president?” a tweet from Cruz’s official campaign account read Tuesday evening alongside a web ad of children playing with a Trump action figure.
“What does he do?” one child asks in the ad. “He pretends to be a Republican,” another answers to laughs. “We wouldn’t tolerate these values in our children. Why would we want them in a president?” the ad closes.
Cruz has been consistently underestimated in the 2016 contest so far. The Texas senator boasts the strongest organization of the field in Super Tuesday southern states, and is within striking distance of Trump in evangelical-heavy South Carolina. Trump will feel the heat from Cruz, and no one can quite know what the unpredictable mogul will deploy against his outsider rival to give himself the upper hand.
The clash between Trump and Cruz will likely dominate the race in the coming weeks, as the Establishment trio fights for the table scraps of the 2016 GOP contest.