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The Five Biggest Surprises of the New Hampshire Primary

The music had barely started at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s watch party Tuesday night when news organizations declared the victors of the New Hampshire primary: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, running as a Democrat, and businessman Donald Trump, running as a Republican.

The music was mostly American classic rock, but it may as well have been a funeral march. “Thanks for hanging in there with us,” former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman and Christie surrogate Wayne MacDonald told the listless crowd in a hotel ballroom.

The room filled up a bit when Christie made an appearance a couple of hours later to tell the crowd he was going home to New Jersey to decide his next move. “I’ve won a lot of elections I was supposed to lose, and lost a lot of elections I was supposed to win,” he said. “It’s part of the magic and mystery of politics.”

Tuesday was ultimately a devastating night for the pugnacious former prosecutor, who’d staked the future of his candidacy on a top-three finish, yet looked to have come in a disappointing sixth. Still, he was far from the only loser.

The top finishers were unsurprising. Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out Sanders in the Iowa caucus just over a week ago, but Sanders had long been ahead in New Hampshire polls and ended up crushing his rival in the primary by more than 20 points, 59.7 percent to 38.6 percent, as of this writing, per the New York Times.

Trump had also been consistently leading the polls in New Hampshire ahead of the primary. The next four candidates were way behind but neck-and-neck, according to the pre-primary polls: Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, all within a point-and-a-half or less of each other.

Trailing Bush was Christie. And in the end, the brash New Jersey governor who went all in on the Granite State finished in the primary just where the polls had suggested, in sixth.

Kasich finished at a surprisingly strong second place with 16.4 percent as of late Tuesday, followed by Cruz at 11.5 percent, Bush at 11.2 percent and Rubio at 10.5 percent, with their final lineup as of yet too close to call. Christie had been gunning to slip in in the top three and stay in the running into South Carolina — always an ambitious goal, but it was sobering for his aides and backers to see how far he had fallen short.

In the end, no amount of money, ground game, retail campaigning, executive experience or tough talk mattered compared to the momentum of bumper-sticker movements like “Feel the Bern” and “Make America Great Again.” Here are Foreign Policy’s picks for the five biggest surprises from the New Hampshire primary:

Feel the Kasich-mentum?

Only in New Hampshire does one score a huge upset by coming in second, and that’s what Kasich achieved here Tuesday night. Kasich, a popular governor of a large swing state and one-time powerful congressman (albeit a decade ago), had struggled to gain traction in the election.

His opponents tried to paint him as being soft on defense because of his stated willingness to curb Pentagon spending to help balance the budget, and his stream-of-consciousness speaking style muddled his message during the debates and left him with few memorable moments.

But he has slowly and steadily positioned himself, in more than 100 townhalls in New Hampshire, as a more credible and compromising alternative to the caustic rhetoric and relative inexperience of Trump and Cruz. “That’s the old politics,” Kasich said at his primary night party in nearby Concord, N.H. “We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else, and maybe, just maybe, at a time when clearly change is in the air, maybe just maybe, we’re turning the page on a dark part of American politics, because tonight the light overcame the darkness.”

Rubio’s Swift Fall From ‘Establishment Savior’

The Republican National Committee and party leaders have openly fretted as they’ve watched Trump and Cruz rise, convinced they cannot beat Clinton and will hurt the Republicans further down the ticket, potentially costing them the majority in the Senate.

Cue Rubio, who has positioned himself as something of a default national security candidate with his experience on the Foreign Relations committee and calls for a more aggressive approach against the Islamic State. Such was the hype that he would save the party when Trump and Cruz inevitably melted away that it was dubbed “Marco-mentum.”

But brutal broadsides in the last GOP debate Saturday night amped up perceptions Rubio is boyishly naive and robotic. When Christie hit Rubio for responding with “the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him,” Rubio stuttered, playing right into the criticism, by effectively repeating the same line three times. “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech,” Christie came back.

Days later, Rubio was left with a disappointing finish in New Hampshire that didn’t fit his campaign’s supposed “3-2-1” strategy for Iowa and next, South Carolina. Still, he’s positioned well in the southern state with strong defense ties.

Bush Avoids a Bruising

The stakes were always going to be high for Bush, brother of one former president and son of another. Lagging in the polls and struggling to shake off a wave of insults from Trump, Bush, like Christie, had gone all in in New Hampshire, looking to use the momentum from a strong finish here to reassure the wealthy donors and establishment figures who had been publicly airing doubts about his chances for the nomination.

In the end, Bush didn’t shock the political world with an unexpected win, but he didn’t suffer a catastrophic defeat either. He made a late, small surge to finish in fourth place, edging out Rubio, his former protege in Florida politics. With his fundraising machine and family ties, it should be enough to hold on. For now.

The Clinton Camp’s Demoralization

The Clinton camp is reportedly considering shaking up her staff and revisiting her campaign strategy in the wake of her dramatic loss to Sanders, who demolished her among younger voters. In recent weeks, Clinton has increasingly emphasized her experience, both on national security and as a longtime Washington heavyweight with a record of getting things done, and framed Sanders as radical, naive — and unelectable.
Though she narrowly won the Iowa caucus, her message hasn’t resonated with progressive and youthful Democrats, bringing back bad memories for a woman who lost to an inspirational, less experienced senator in 2008. According to an MSNBC exit poll, she beat Sanders among voters who care about experience and electability, but less than 40 percent of voters made their final pick on those factors.

“I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” Clinton said in her early concession speech. “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them because I know … what it’s like to stumble and fall.

“I know that doesn’t fit with the narrative, I know there are those that want to deny the passion and purpose of this campaign,” she told the New Hampshire crowd. “You are the reason we are here.

All Bets Are Off For Typically Steady South Carolina

On both sides of the ballot, the New Hampshire primary shakes up the field and raises the stakes into South Carolina, typically a more steady, straight-shooting state than independent-minded and unpredictable Iowa and New Hampshire. With all the jockeying behind Trump among the Republicans, it could be a toss-up for the GOP, and while Clinton’s momentum is sagging, Sanders has no clear path to the nomination beyond New Hampshire, neighboring his home state. Republicans in South Carolina will cast their ballots on February 20; Democrats a week later.

By MOLLY OTOOLE Feb. 10, 2016 on Foreign Policy

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