Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trump at the Crossroads

Donald Trump spent six months saying the reason voters should support him is that he a winner.   That claim was proven false in the first election contest in the 2016 campaign.  Yes, Iowa Caucus goers gave Trump more votes than any other Republican ever in the history of the caucus.  But Trump was not the winner.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, relying on a superb ground game, swept to victory with a record number of caucus votes on the backs of conservative evangelicals.  Cruz deflected Trump's personal attacks, including that he was a liar and not eligible because he was born in Canada, and fought off a last minute surge by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  Rubio, who exceeded expectations and nearly beat Trump, focused his campaign heavily on large populations areas.

Trump now turns his attention to the New Hampshire primary, which takes place next Tuesday.  Polls show he has a substantial lead over his opponent, but those polls were all taken before his second place finish in Iowa.  A second place finish in the Granite State would be a devastating blow for his campaign.  But Trump, in an attempt to manage expectations, said at a news conference in New Hampshire Tuesday, "Finishing second wouldn't be the worst thing in the world," adding "I'd like to finish first."

However several Republican candidates have spent more time and resources in New Hampshire than Trump.  Ohio Governor John Kasich has built a strong following in that state.  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has invested a lot of time in the state, a state he must perform well in to remain viable.  

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has also focused his campaign efforts on a strong showing in New Hampshire.  And Christie wasted no time Tuesday in going after the surging Marco Rubio.  “Unlike some of these other campaigns, I’m not the boy in the bubble,” he said, referring to Rubio. “OK? We know who the boy in the bubble is up here, who never answers your questions, who’s constantly scripted and controlled because he can’t answer your questions. So when Sen. Rubio gets here, when the boy in the bubble gets here, I hope you guys ask him some questions.”   But a Rubio spokesperson quickly struck back.  “No amount of hot air or made-up facts can distract from Chris Christie’s liberal record of supporting Common Core, gun control, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood and Obama’s liberal judicial picks." Joe Pounder said.  "Marco is the only candidate who can unite conservatives and beat Hillary Clinton.”

New Hampshire promises to be an intensely heated contest.  Cruz and Rubio are hoping to capitalize on their Iowa performances in Tuesday's primary.  While they both did well among conservative evangelicals, New Hampshire does not have a large evangelical population to draw upon.   Nonetheless, both candidates will vigorously campaign in hopes of exceeding expectations, and maybe squeaking out a victory.

The Trump campaign is at a crossroads.  The candidate has held no town hall meetings to date, and he has not spent as much time in the state as many of his opponents.  He will need to do more appearances and retail politics in the few days remaining before the primary if he is to maintain his large lead.  More importantly, New Hampshire voters will want more than a celebrity candidate, they will want substance.

That just may be too much to expect from Donald Trump.

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