Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders overturned American politics with their stunning wins in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. As I write, with two-thirds of the vote in, Trump leads John Kasich by almost 20 points on the Republican side and Sanders leads Hillary Clinton by 21 points on the Democratic side. Those numbers are incredible. Trump outperformed his ideological precursor Pat Buchanan, who won the New Hampshire primary in 1996. And Sanders—well, what can one say about Sanders?
You listen to Bernie Sanders and hear something familiar. The party establishment has been corrupted by big money. It hasn’t achieved the promises it has made to voters. International trade has been a corrupt bargain for American workers. America has been too assertive and quick to take military action overseas and should work within international coalitions above all else. The mainstream of the party is much closer to the center than it is to the beliefs of its base.
Ted Cruz won a major victory in Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Polls showed him running behind Donald Trump, who attacked Cruz furiously, calling him a nasty person, a stooge of Goldman Sachs, and, heaven forbid, a Canadian. But Cruz persevered and beat Trump 28 to 24 percent, with Marco Rubio a close third at 23 percent. Cruz’s path to the Republican nomination depended on him winning the Iowa caucuses. Well, he won them.
Thursday’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News Channel was serious, substantive, and filled with thoughtful policy statements from major candidates. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz delivered solid performances. Yet there was something missing: The Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who skipped the debate because of a dispute with the cable news powerhouse. I watched the program attentively, yet was left puzzled by what I saw. It’s hard to determine who wins when the candidate who leads the polls and has determined the grounds of political discussion is nowhere to be seen.
Paul Ryan enters his first full year as speaker of the House with a unified caucus, an ambitious agenda, and an audacious goal: Go on offense against President Obama and the Democratic Party, while laying the predicate for unified Republican control of government in 2017. “We have no clue who our nominee is going to be,” Ryan tells me over the phone, “and the last thing we should do is sit around and wait.”
The Fox Business debate made clear that the Republican primary is Donald Trump’s race to lose. It’s not only that Trump continues his months-long polling lead and the debate won’t do anything to change that. It’s that Trump’s considerable political skills were on display Thursday evening. Provocative, gauche, funny, emphatic, and fearless, Trump doesn’t back down when the crowd boos him, he holds his own against more polished opponents, and he has identified and exploited the anger of many Republican and independent voters.
No doubt you, too, spent the holidays relishing the humiliation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the overrated and obnoxious Democratic Party hack who, finally, is teetering on the brink of political oblivion. How the former ballet dancer and Sarah Lawrence alumnus parlayed ambition and drive and the ability to scream like a lunatic into high office and a fortune of more than $10 million is one of the remarkable political stories of our time. “Emanuel has succeeded in almost every professional endeavor he has undertaken,” Ryan Lizza wrote approvingly in 2009. Spoke too soon.