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So that’s a wrap, folks. If you decided to go out on a Saturday night for some reason and didn’t watch the debate, just start at the bottom and scroll up — it’ll feel like you were at the ABC News’ Republican debate (well, sort of).
Will tonight’s debate have any effect on the race in New Hampshire? Let us know what you think @FiveThirtyEight or leave a comment.
The candidates were just asked about conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage. It should be noted that the New Hampshire electorate is anything but conservative on social issues. In the 2012 primary, an amazingly high 62 percent of primary voters said they were moderate-to-liberal in their social philosophy.
Some context for why Jeb Bush and Chris Christie just gave the smart-for-New-Hampshire answer on abortion. In 2008, 52 percent of voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary said abortion should always or sometimes be legal, according to the exit poll. Only 15 percent said it should always be illegal.
Marco Rubio, in response to a question about younger voters and social issues, brought up an interesting point: that the Democratic debates have, thus far, not really mentioned the abortion issue. It’s perhaps because Sanders has heightened the debate over economic issues so much in that race.
I’m a bit more equivocal. In the long run, Trump has to prove that he doesn’t have a low ceiling on his support. Getting 30 percent would be better than the 24 percent he got in Iowa, but it’s still in Pat Buchanan range. (In 1996, Buchanan got 23 percent in Iowa, then won New Hampshire with 26 percent of the vote.) The important way it would be helpful for Trump is that a strong showing for Kasich and Bush could keep them in the race longer and prevent party elites from consolidating around Marco Rubio.
I think that does make sense, Micah. Take a look at the latest poll from the University of New Hampshire: Who is the candidate that leads among those definitely decided? It’s Donald Trump with 40 percent. No one else is above 14 percent. Trump’s actually trailing among those who haven’t totally made up their mind. That is, the vote that is still up for grabs tends not to be a Trump vote. The leader of the not-totally-decided vote? It was Marco Rubio.
I’d simplify that to say that Cruz and Rubio not having great nights would be good for Trump. Rubio’s clearly not having his finest hour. Cruz hasn’t been too memorable. (My theory about Rubio right now is that he’s switched to general-election debate mode: He’d go to a mosque — theoretically — he’s worked in a bipartisan way.)
There’s some talk that Bush and Kasich are having good nights, which may end up being good news for Trump because he could win New Hampshire with say 30 percent … does that make sense?
The absence of military veterans on the Republican stage tonight, with none remaining in the Democratic race, is quite a sea change. Between 1948 and 2008, at least one veteran was among the major-party nominees in every single election.
(Although we should note that low-polling GOP candidate Jim Gilmore is a veteran, as was Democrat Jim Webb, who has since dropped his presidential bid.)
One thing to keep in mind: there are just three more full days of campaigning remaining in New Hampshire, but that’s still plenty of time for the results to change substantially from where the polls have them right now. In the past, for example, there’s been a huge last-minute surge for Gary Hart (1984), a significant rebound for Howard Dean (in 2004, although it was not enough for him to win New Hampshire) and a major upset in 2008, when Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama despite trailing him in all the final polls.
… even if we have trouble defining what conservatism means. By the three ideological measures on this chart, Cruz is the most conservative, on average, and Christie is the least. Perhaps relatedly, Cruz won the Iowa caucuses this week and is polling well elsewhere. Christie is barely on the radar with GOP primary voters. Among the candidates still in the race, Rubio is the second-most conservative.
Kasich and Bush are both between the Republican average for the 96th Congress (1979-1980) and the Republican average in the 113th Congress, whereas Rubio and Cruz are both to the right of the later average. In other words, there’s a time dimension to this as well. Kasich and Bush are more representative of the Reagan and George W. Bush era, while Cruz and Rubio entered national politics with the Tea Party movement. So what we’re seeing there is not just that the stronger candidates are further to the right – we’re also observing the evolution of the party.
And here’s our weighted polling average for New Hampshire:
Commercial break forecast check:
As the chart in Ritchie’s post below shows, heroin and opiate addiction is a big problem in New Hampshire. It’s a topic we’ve heard about at almost every town hall we’ve attended here, even as it’s rarely discussed by the national media.
Believe it or not, John Kasich was pretty effective when speaking off-the-cuff in the town hall I saw him at yesterday, answering all sort of miscellaneous questions that New Hampshire voters can throw. He’s a little stream of consciousness, however, when the debate format really rewards conciseness, especially when you’re only getting a real question once every half hour.
Cruz is having a little bit of trouble with the torture question, in part because his campaign is really hoping to pick up some Rand Paul supporters, and libertarians tend to be highly critical of George W. Bush’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques.
The candidates defined conservatism tonight in terms of free enterprise, opportunity, and limited government; maybe that philosophy degree is coming in handy after all.
Nativism and executive-branch strength aren’t part of this classical definition. But they’ve been a big part of the political debate within, and outside, the Republican Party, for a while now, and especially in this race. The first answer of the night, from Trump, was about illegal immigrants and Muslims. Is that conservatism? Paul Ryan came out and said no, after one of Trump’s statements. But it clearly attracts support on the American right.
It hasn’t been front and center tonight, but in previous debates, presidential power has been a question. It’s hard to reconcile a strong, decisive and expansive presidency with the principle of limited government. Yet, conservatives have done exactly this for decades, in a way that’s often been politically effective. Historically, conservatism has been associated with isolationism – but this has changed, with conservative foreign policy positions being closer to hawkishness and president-led interventions.
Neither building a wall nor carpet-bombing enemies fits neatly with William F. Buckley’s vision of “standing athwart history yelling STOP.” Can the candidates make those connections, or do they have to admit they also hold other ideologies? No discussion of conservatism can just be about making more millionaires or about the promise of free enterprise. An honest answer requires confronting those two difficult questions.
According to Betfair, Rubio’s chances of winning the Republican nomination have declined to about 52 percent from 55 percent before the debate began. That seems reasonable enough. I thought he was really, really bad in the first half-hour of the debate. However, (i) it’s not that easy to judge how people at home are seeing things and (ii) the other frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, haven’t had a very good night either.
Nate, you’ve been very bullish on Rubio’s chances since early 2015. How bad is tonight?
Trump has shifted from being a moderate populist to something more along the lines of a conventional conservative, but where he’d end up in the event of a general election is hard to say. What’s clear is that Trump’s pretty far removed from a laissez faire “small-government conservative,” which is some of what Rubio’s answer was getting at.
Viewers might wonder whether Chris Christie and John Kasich have some of a deal going into this debate. Christie was asked about Kasich critiquing his job record. Christie basically passed on attacking Kasich and instead praised Kasich. Instead, Christie attacked Rubio yet again. Then when they went to Kasich, he refused to attack Christie and praised him. It’s interesting because Christie and Kasich are fighting over many of the same voters.
What Harry said: Donald Trump is political tofu — he can take on any flavor.
Donald Trump is whoever you want him to be. He has said so many things over the years that I’m not sure what he is exactly.