There is something perversely pleasurable in watching the presidential campaign defy the usual experts.
Most White House contests are somewhat predictable. The insurgents fade and the well-funded grownups prevail in the end. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that George W. Bush and Al Gore would slug it out in 2000.
It was in that vein that the pundits were bemoaning a year ago that another Bush/Clinton faceoff would be a royal rerun.
So Jeb just clawed his way to a weak fourth place in New Hampshire, and Hillary was clobbered in almost every demographic.
Instead, a bombastic billionaire initially dismissed as a sideshow and a septuagenarian socialist not given a snowball’s chance won the state in convincing fashion.
It was fascinating to be in Manchester on Tuesday night, watching all these commentators—left and right—who bitterly opposed Donald Trump having to “give the devil his due,” as National Review Editor Rich Lowry put it. (Hate-Trump outfits like the Huffington Post instead blames the voters for being racist and sexist tools.)
It was equally revealing to watch journalists gradually realize the magnitude of Bernie Sanders’ victory, a blowout in which he beat the potential first female president among women—all of whom are apparently now going to hell.
So where does that leave us? John Kasich’s second-place finish has confounded the prognosticators, because it scrambles the equation on whether one of the governors or Marco Rubio would emerge as the anointed alternative to Trump and Ted Cruz. The only settled outcome is that Chris Christie, whose taunting of Rubio didn’t help him one bit, has hung it up, along with Carly Fiorina.
As for Rubio, I may have underestimated the impact of his robotic exchanges with Christie. The campaign leaked to the New York Times the embarrassing detail that the senator didn’t know how badly he had bombed until he went on Twitter. (That’s reminiscent of Gore’s aides forcing him to watch the “SNL” skit on his sighing, eye-rolling debate with W. to grasp how awful he was.)
But I think the impact of that ABC debate was magnified by three days of terrible press that cast Rubio’s repetitive reflexes as not just a tactical blunder but a moral failing.
On the Democratic side, the press has to assess how badly Hillary was wounded in the state she won eight years ago and that gave her husband a comeback 24 years ago. If she can’t win younger voters or female voters or voters who want an honest candidate, Clinton may be a far weaker candidate than the “inevitability” crowd had imagined.
Sure, she can get back in the winning column in South Carolina and other big states with significant numbers of black voters, who are all but invisible in Iowa and New Hampshire. But have her fatal weaknesses been exposed?
You’ll know news organizations are taking Sanders seriously when they really starts to drill down on his plethora of free-stuff proposals. So far, that hasn’t happened. And if Bernie remains competitive, you’ll undoubtedly hear chatter about some other Democrat being drafted.
Or perhaps we can look forward to a Bernie-and-Donald showdown in the general election, which would improbably pit Brooklyn vs. Queens, the man who rails against billionaires against the man who flaunts his billionaire status. That would, at the very least, be highly entertaining.