A lot gets decided in New Hampshire. Trump, Cruz, and Rubio punched a ticket to go on in Iowa. It is said two tickets are available in New Hampshire. Tickets will go to those who aimed high and then hit it. Some are going to miss their target.
The following are my thoughts on Saturday night’s debate.
Trump: Winner because he did exactly what a poll leader needs to do- do no harm.
Cruz: Winner because he had his best debate of the year and seemed the least rehearsed/reliant on stump speech talking points. His only “downer” was not stopping with an apology to Carson and going on to defend the indefensible.
Rubio: Loser not because of the dust-up with Christie and not because he snatched Cruz’ body and sounded rehearsed/reliant on stump speech talking points. I think Rubio lost because Kasich and Bush did so well and he failed to deliver a knock-out punch.
Kasich: Winner because he hit on all notes and basically asked the people of New Hampshire to keep him alive. They tend to pick someone to propel to the next series of primaries and he might be who they pick.
Bush: Winner as it was by far his best debate performance and did so in a way to reinvigorate his supporters and keep his donors on board.
Christie: Loser because anything he draws from Rubio will go to Trump, Cruz, Kasich or Bush.
Carson: Loser because he was missed at the debate. The RNC/Fox digitally making a hologram of Carson to accept the Cruz apology was a nice gesture but who votes for a hologram?
Fiorina: Winner because I think there will be a certain group of voters who think she should have been on stage and will vote for her as a sign of support.
I think we have three questions that will be answered tonight:
Question #1: Will Trump win New Hampshire? While he will underperform his current poll support because of a lack of a strong organization/ground game, he will lodge a strong victory (more than 12%).
Question #2: Will Kasich or Bush get 2nd place and punch a ticket out of New Hampshire? Biggest question of the night. If anyone does, I think it will be Kasich because he has the best ground game (like Cruz had in Iowa). However, I think a 3rd or 4th place finish by Bush will be enough to keep him in the race.
Question #3: Who will finish higher between Cruz and Rubio? I think it will be Rubio because he has a better ground game and New Hampshire has a tradition of not rewarding the Iowa winner. In fact, if Cruz beats Rubio, it might be terminal.
EXPECTATION THRESHOLDS: (__%) following each candidate is the current poll average at realpolitics.com. Making predictions is much harder than Iowa because not only are 50% of the voters still considering their final decision, 65% of the Independents aren’t even sure whether they will vote in the Democratic or Republican Primary. Thus, the measure is who lives up to expectations and who does not.
If Rubio, Kasich, Bush or Cruz exceed my “high” threshold, they will be declared THE winner by the media. If they don’t hit my “low” threshold, they will be declared the big losers. Note: Although these do reflect to large degree my expectations, these are less “predictions” than they are thresholds by which to measure success or failure AND to grasp insight into the future.
- Trump (31.2%): I assume an adequate ground game. Because he has none that is evident, I discount his performance against the polls. Threshold: 28%-31%
- Kasich (13.5%): Getting 2nd is critical to Kasich. It doesn’t matter how much he loses to the 2nd place finisher, 3rd place will not be enough for him to go onto South Carolina. Threshold: 15%-18%
- Rubio (14%): The dust-up with Christie negates his momentum in Iowa. Most importantly it is likely to prevent him from stopping someone from punching a ticket. Threshold: 14%-16%
- Bush (11.5%): I have the least confidence in this prediction. One moment I think his support will go to Kasich, the next moment to Rubio, and the next he will take support from Kasich. His New Hampshire organization is a close 2nd to Kasich. I think it as likely he finishes above or below this threshold than inside it. Threshold: 12%-15%
- Cruz (11.8%): New Hampshire is not Iowa, polls don’t show him voter’s 2nd or 3rd choice of those not named Trump or Rubio, and I think winning Iowa is a slight detriment in New Hampshire. Only if he finishes in single digits will New Hampshire affect him going into South Carolina. Threshold: 11%-13%
- Fiorina (4.8%): My gut tells me she will get a bump because she was left off the debate stage. In the end, I think she will narrowly beat Christie and compete in South Carolina. Threshold: 5%-7%.
- Christie (5.8%): He is the weakest of the Governors still in the race and voters will choose to boost Kasich or Bush vs. him. Besides my Bush prediction, I feel least confident as he could beat this threshold. Threshold: 4%-6%
- Carson (3%): Holograms don’t win primaries. Threshold: 2%-4%
BONUS PREDICTION: Sanders beats Clinton by more than 15% (currently up by 13%).
- There has been talk about “lanes.” I’ve never bought the discussion because I don’t think there is ideologically that much difference between the candidates. I think the “lanes” that might come into play are:
- Outsider: Combined, Trump, Fiorina, & Carson have 39% support. Outsiders are attractive to those who want to disrupt the status quo beyond normal. New faces.
- Governor: Combined, Kasich, Bush, & Christie have 27% support. Governors are attractive to what i call “governance conservatives” who want things to get done vs. gridlock.
- Senator: Combined, Rubio & Cruz have 26% support. Senators are attractive to those who have agenda priorities and want to hear the read meat and “that vision thing.”
If there is a very strong performance by one of the Governors, we could see the race come down to an Outsider, Senator and a Governor vs. the current expectations of an Outsider and two Senators. I can see a scenario where a very strong performance by either (especially both) Kasich or Bush potentially being most damaging to Cruz/Rubio. Surprisingly to me, both pick up the most 2nd place votes from the other. They might need one to drop out to be viable if they get 4th and 5th place.
- Rubio is the most nervous candidate in the field while Cruz is the least nervous. A 4th place finish hurts Rubio worse than a 5th place finish for Cruz. If Cruz gets 5th, he can just say “On to South Carolina.” If Cruz finishes 4th or better, he can claim victory ala Rubio in Iowa. But, if Rubio finishes 5th (and maybe 4th), he will have lost the expectation game, lost his momentum, and created one or two competitors he should have knocked out tonight.
- Bush has the most upside. If he finishes 2nd, he is a major player (and may knock-down Rubio) going forward. If he finishes 3rd (especially to Kasich), he can claim victory. If he finishes 4th (currently in 5th), he goes onto South Carolina. Anything worse, he is finished.
- Trump has to start developing a traditional organization going forward or he will consistently under-perform poll support. One of his strengths is the band-wagon effect. He can’t afford to get dinged too many times like he did in Iowa.
- Endorsements will matter going into South Carolina. If they drop out, Kasich, Bush and Christie will endorse a fellow Governor (whoever finishes as “Top Governor” in New Hampshire) but Fiorina and Carson will have more impact than their vote support indicates. I think they could even pull soft supporters away from candidates above them.
- In 2008, only the top two leaders in the polls exceeded their final poll numbers. This hints maybe Trump and Kasich will get an unforeseen bump.
- In 2012, only the top three poll leaders exceeded their final poll numbers. This hints maybe Rubio will get an unforeseen bump.
- Iowa winners dropped both years. Not a good trend for Cruz.