Let’s cut through the spin: Donald Trump, mocked and minimized by the mainstream media for many months, won a major victory here in New Hampshire.
A billionaire who had never run for office, he scored a big win that is no less impressive because it was “expected” by the press. And the way Trump did it will ease the sting of his second-place finish in Iowa, whose demographics and complicated caucuses were never a good fit for him.
Yet the media darling of the moment will undoubtedly be John Kasich, who slogged his way to the second spot in New Hampshire the old-fashioned way—by working his butt off in town halls and diners. In edging his way to the front of the gubernatorial pack, Kasich used a meat-and-potatoes style and what used to be called a compassionate conservative message that helped him among late deciders.
Still, Kasich has run such a one-state campaign that it’s not clear where he goes from here.
With Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie battling it out for the next spots at this writing, other questions swirl around. Cruz did well, considering that New Hampshire is too moderate for him and he didn’t play that hard here, granting few interviews and looking ahead to South Carolina. Cruz got very little bump from winning Iowa, in part because of the continuing fallout over his staff spreading false rumors that Ben Carson was dropping out.
Rubio’s momentum was clearly blunted by three days of bad press over that robotic stretch in the debate. And Christie, who taunted him, didn’t benefit much and faces a difficult decision.
Trump’s media antagonists are just digging in. The Huffington Post, which only recently liberated him from the entertainment section, ran a red, all-caps screamer: “NH GOES RACIST SEXIST XENOPHOBIC.” Blaming the voters is never an attractive look.
Slate was relatively restrained, by contrast: “Donald Trump Just Won New Hampshire. Sad!”
Trump, who drew flak for repeating a synonym for cat in describing Ted Cruz at a rally, has consistently said and done things that would doom ordinary candidates, yet survived constant media predictions of his imminent demise.
In fact, Trump showed that the New York Daily News “DEAD CLOWN WALKING” cover was both unfunny and inaccurate. With four in 10 of his voters angry at the government, 40 percent deeming him best able to handle the economy and six in 10 wanting someone from outside the establishment (according to Fox exit polls), Trump can claim to have tapped into a public frustration that most political and media big shots failed to detect.
Almost a third of Trump’s voters were independents, an advantage he won’t enjoy in many closed Republican primaries.
Kasich defied his party’s most conservative voters, with 30 percent of his backers calling themselves moderates and a quarter of those who favor giving illegal immigrants a path to legalization.
More than half of Bush’s voters told our pollsters that they made up their minds in the last week. As for Rubio, a striking 40 percent of his voters want someone who can win in November, suggesting that they buy the senator’s argument that he’s best positioned to unite the GOP in the fall.
To give Sanders his due, 80 percent of his voters are under 30, 70 percent are independent, 90 percent want someone from outside the establishment, and more than 90 percent want a nominee who is honest and trustworthy. The Vermont socialist who once seemed a fringe candidate has built a liberal movement, in part with a persona that is so utterly different than Hillary’s.
At a Manchester rally with Bill and Chelsea on Monday, Hillary seemed as fired up as the crowd, but soon started ticking off government programs and proposals.
Clinton’s supporters sound like party regulars: nearly 90 percent value the right experience, 70 percent want President Obama’s policies continued, 60 percent are senior citizens. But there is a flashing red light: only half think she’s honest.
Still, Sanders will have a rougher time as we move on to contests in bigger and more diverse states where he has yet to demonstrate an appeal among minority voters.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.