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New Hampshire winners share one attribute: authenticity

New Hampshire winners share one attribute: authenticity
David Horsey / Los Angeles Time
Authenticity, whether perceived or real, was a big winner in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and John Kasich, in their own very distinct ways, are the three candidates who not only made the best showing, but appeared to be the most comfortable in their own skins.

Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, racked up a 20% margin over Hillary Clinton by attracting liberal voters and young people drawn to his call for a  peaceful revolution to end the dominance of Wall Street and the super wealthy in American politics and the economy. Clinton worked hard to convince voters that supporting her, the first woman with a serious shot at the presidency, was a revolutionary act in itself, but a majority of New Hampshire Democrats — female millennials, in particular — did not buy it.

Perhaps unfairly, many voters on the left are suspicious of Clinton’s pledge to fight for progressive causes. They have no doubts about Sanders, though. It may seem odd that the under-30 crowd is so enthusiastic about this aging radical with his stooped shoulders and unruly white hair, but his grandfatherly demeanor combined with an idealism that has not changed since his youth appears to be what appeals to them. He is not slick, he is not fake, he is the real deal.

Trump, too, is the real deal, even if his candidacy is utterly surreal. Politics has no shortage of giant egos, but Trump may be the most narcissistic person ever to run for the highest office in the land. The candidate stood before his cheering fans on primary night, flanked by his ridiculously glamorous wife and children, and boasted about how he will, through the sheer force of his personality and deal-making skill, fix every problem facing the country. It was a victory tableau that seemed a triumph of the absurd.

Nevertheless, he is completely unashamed about it all; the constant focus on himself, the extravagance of his lifestyle, the thinness of his policy proposals, the outrageousness of his schemes to ban Muslims from entering the country, deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and bring back waterboarding. He may be making some of this stuff up as he goes along, but the very improvisational nature of his candidacy guarantees that nothing feels prepackaged by campaign consultants. Trump is Trump, love him or hate him, and, in New Hampshire, enough Republicans and independents loved him to give him a solid plurality in a crowded field.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the other “winner” of the evening by edging out the rest of the GOP also-rans and coming in at No. 2. Kasich is about as conventional as they come in the political world, and that may not get him far in a year when many voters are looking for unconventional agents of change. But Kasich’s no-nonsense, old-school style is a contrast to the over-rehearsed Marco Rubio, whose embarrassing inability to go off script did serious damage to his performance at the polls Tuesday. Neither does Kasich display the conniving slickness of Ted Cruz or the stiff awkwardness of Jeb Bush. Kasich is unapologetically proud to be a pragmatic, nuts-and-bolts politician.

In his celebratory speech Tuesday evening, Kasich was a class act. He talked about his father, a postman who took time to share the joys and sorrows of the folks on his mail route. Kasich suggested that all of us would do well to follow his dad’s example.

“If we would just slow down and heal the divisions in our own families…” he said. “Just slow down, look ‘em in the eye, give ‘em a hug.”

It was a rather homey, intimate thing to be talking about in the midst of the campaign hoopla, but it felt genuine. And genuine was having a good night.

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