The establishment of both political parties had a very bad night and must be having a rugged morning after.
On the Democratic side, the New Hampshire primary win by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was certainly no surprise; most polls there have for several months shown him leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The size of the win was something else, though - that was beyond what nearly any poll had predicted. Sanders wound up with a true landslide, a 60% win, beating Clinton not just substantially but by more than 20 percentage points. He was advantaged in being a next-door neighbor, of course, and demographically as well, two reasons why a win was predicted. But a win on this scale has to involve other factors as well, including connecting with the tenor of the times in a way Clinton has not.
A month from now, there's a real possibility this point in the process may be a distant memory; the upcoming states will not represent such favorable ground for Sanders. But he has shown some real strength for his brand of progressive politics. He has tapped into something, and Clinton will ignore that at her peril. She is said to be spending time the next day or two recalibrating her campaign. If that involves such things as staff shakeups, you'll know that the interest is more in scapegoating than in problem solving; her chief problems do not appear to include staff weaknesses. But if you see changes in campaign style, tactics, and messages, you may get a sense they're actually adapting to conditions as they are on the ground.
On the Republican side - well, principally it was a night for businessman Donald Trump to prove that the polls weren't lying, and that any establishment attempt to take on him and Texas Senator Ted Cruz remains hopelessly incoherent, and will for at least a while longer.
The Iowa results were less conclusive in this respect. There, in the difficult caucus environment, Trump underperformed, the well-organized Cruz did about as well as expected (or maybe a little better), and the established appeared to found its guy in the form of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Now this scenario has been completely upended. This time, Trump matched his polling, or maybe did even a little better, ending the hope that his poll-reflected support wasn't real. It's real, all right, even if it may be reflected to various degrees in different kinds of states. Cruz fell to third place this time, though he probably wasn't feeling too bad about that; he had a first-place win (in Iowa) in his back pocket, and third place in a state as non-amenable to his form of evangelical and militia activist organization wasn't awful. Like Trump, he emerged well positioned to go on.
The real punch-out, strategically, was to the "establishment candidates" - Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The mainstream of the national Republican organization badly needs one of them to emerge as its champion to slay Trump and Cruz, but the odds of that happening aren't promising right now.
Christie, finishing in sixth place, had invested heavily in New Hampshire and just couldn't gain traction, and now is nearly out of money; he probably drops from the race today. Bush, who saw an uptick in New Hampshire in the final days, did just well enough to justify continuing on, and can since he still has money and organization - even though there's no evidence of any enthusiastic support, or reason to think he'll be competitive with the top two. Rubio, the former organization champion, emerged badly bloodied after his "Marcobot" fiasco, and will have to rebuild enthusiasm for his campaign from the ground up - with hardly any time left to accomplish that. And Kasich, the one of the group who really did do well in New Hampshire, a state that was about as amenable to him as any in the country, spent practically every resource he had - time, money, personnel, energy - for months specifically in that state, and has little to nothing left over to pour into any other place. He has to be hoping his second place win Tuesday will translate to more money and support, and he may get some, but he remains a very long shot.
In all, the Republican race looks very much as it did a month ago. The clearest paths to the nomination are those pursued by Trump and Cruz; their nearest competitor, whoever that turns out to be (and that identity is far from clear right now) will have to clear out a lot of brush along the way. - rs