The conventional wisdom throughout this cycle has always been that New Hampshire was going to catapult one of the moderates in the race into a two-way competition with one of the conservatives heading into South Carolina. The New Hampshire Republican electorate, after all, has always been socially moderate, and the influx of Massachusetts liberals has made them less fiscally conservative, as well.
For a long time, the polling bore this out. As late as Mid-September, Kasich and Bush were fighting it out for second place in virtually every poll in NH. The assumption was that after Trump came back to earth, most of his NH supporters would go to one or the other of these camps.
The latest Monmouth University poll, however, shows that Bush and Kasich’s New Hampshire strategies are falling apart faster than a plane that has been maintained by Russians. They have almost completely hemorrhaged their support to either Ben Carson or [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ]:
One-in-four (26%) likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire continue to back Donald Trump for the presidential nomination. Ben Carson (16%) places second and [mc_name name=’Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000595′ ] (13%) comes in third, followed closely by John Kasich (11%). Other contenders include [mc_name name=’Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’C001098′ ] (9%), Jeb Bush (7%), Carly Fiorina (5%), Chris Christie (5%), and [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] (3%). None of the other six candidates included in the poll registers higher than 1%.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if Kasich finishes anything worse than second in New Hampshire, he is finished. And he has to face the reality that whoever wins in Iowa is going to get a relatively significant polling boost coming into New Hampshire – so he needs to be comfortably in second (or better, in first) when the end of December rolls around in order to have a viable path to the nomination. Right now, all indications are that he is heading in the wrong direction in that respect.
The news is even worse for Jeb Bush (as it always seems to be for Team Jeb these days). Jeb has fallen into sixth place, behind Cruz – in New Hampshire. Worse, Rubio’s elevation to third place shows that we are in the beginning stages of a probable Establishment coalescence around Rubio. Rubio’s team would probably pay money to avoid having anyone say out loud that this is happening, given what a poisonous word “establishment” is these days, but the fact that it is nonetheless occurring is reflective of a positive development: the establishment has become so terrorized by the prospect of Trump and/or Carson that they are willing to accept (even heartily embrace) a candidate in Rubio who is well to the right of anyone they would normally embrace.
After Rubio flat out ran over Crist just five short years ago, it’s ridiculous to suggest that Rubio would ever have been even in their top five choices, but although he is not of them, the establishment likely sees him as a less threatening prospect than either Trump or Carson, while also being the only candidate who seems likely to be able to stop the Trump/Carson phenomenon.
If the moderates in the race are hoping for a positive result from New Hampshire to save their flagging campaigns, they had better start looking elsewhere.