So now it comes down to the voters of New Hampshire. Despite the “Live Free or Die” motto, New Hampshire Republicans are not especially libertarian. They are just among the most moderate of Republicans.
After Iowa’s disproportionately evangelical voters weighed in and chose Ted Cruz, New Hampshire voters will pick out the guy they want, and it looks overwhelmingly like Donald Trump will win. Here are four story lines to watch:
1. Trump v. Sanders — Will Trump be able to pull in Democratic-leaning independents, or will they go and vote for Bernie Sanders? That will tell us something about how powerful Trump’s blue-collar appeal actually is.
2. Will Marco Rubio finish second? Consecutive third place finishes are hard to spin into “winning the establishment lane.” Polls show a confusing mess of possibilities: Is John Kasich currently in second, or is it Jeb Bush or Rubio or even Cruz?
3. A Kasich surge? This morning’s ARG poll, released after the debate, shows Rubio dipping back into third at 14 percent and Kasich emerging at 17 percent. But other polls suggest Kasich, Rubio, Bush and Cruz are all statistically in a dead heat for second.
4. Will Ted Cruz surprise (again!)? Campaigns matter. Will Cruz’s superb campaign organization give him an edge in a tight field? A second place finish is not out of the question.
Here’s my preference, for what it’s worth: we have to narrow the number of non-Trump candidates to have any possibility of defeating him. Two-thirds of Republicans prefer someone else. The most important thing New Hampshire can do is winnow the field.
If I had my druthers, New Hampshire voters would push Cruz and Rubio into second and third.
Because a Kasich surge will not only put a pro-Common Core candidate who refuses to commit to FADA into contention. It will keep the non-Trump support divided badly, at least through South Carolina.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.