Home/Daniel Larison/The Republican Party Elites’ New Hampshire Woes

The Republican Party Elites’ New Hampshire Woes

Jim Newell points out that the GOP’s “establishment” candidates are failing in New Hampshire in large part because there are too many of them:

There are enough votes out there for one of the four “establishment” candidates—Rubio, Christie, Bush, and Kasich—to take down Trump. This weekend’s CBS/YouGov poll puts their combined tally at 38 percent; the Boston Herald’s survey pins it at 41. Even though it’s clear Republican candidates are working with a much more conservative, outsider-friendly primary electorate this year, the votes are still there in New Hampshire for a candidate more in line with a traditional Republican nominee to take the first primary. But not if it’s split four ways.

In the 2012 primary, Romney won with 39% of the vote, and it is likely that Romney voters account for almost all of the support for the four competitive “establishment” candidates. These four candidates all so close to one another in New Hampshire that none of them would be willing to give up before the primary, and all of them are counting on New Hampshire to knock out, or at least weaken, their “establishment” competitors. Their voters aren’t going to rally behind only one of them simply for the sake of stopping Trump. Guided by the traditional Weaver plan, Kasich’s entire campaign is focused on New Hampshire, and his campaign really has nothing else going for it if he doesn’t finish in at least the top three. Likewise, Christie has no chance anywhere else until much later in the process, and so he needs a decent showing there simply to keep going. Bush also needs some success in New Hampshire to maintain the illusion that he is going to mount a “comeback.” All of them have strong incentives to stay in the race and to wound Rubio as much as possible in the process, and Rubio desperately needs not to finish behind any of them. The end result will very likely be the fragmentation of their share of the vote to the benefit of Trump and Cruz.

This is normally the predicament that movement conservative and insurgent candidates find themselves in during the nomination contest. In every cycle for at least the last twenty years, there has been one relative moderate/presumptive front-runner and a group of conservative candidates that split their support four or more ways. Party elites normally get behind the relative moderate early, discourage others from competing for that role, and watch as the challengers tear each other apart. All of this has been turned upside down this year. There are so many options available that the large donors are reluctant to commit to any one candidate, and none of the candidates has so far demonstrated that he should be the consensus choice for party elites. Bush was supposed to fill that role, and he believed that he would fill it, but his poor performance as a candidate upended all of that. Party elites haven’t been able to make up their mind, and they’re now discovering that they are running out of time to make sure that one of their preferred candidates comes out on top.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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