Say what you will about the cranky-Yankee New Hampshire primary, in a remote, mostly white state in the shape of a dunce cap on the map of New England. It’s still the place where presidential candidates have to go face-to-face retail, in the donut shop and the house party, where voters expect to make eye contact and shake a hand four or five times before they commit. The bigger point in 2020 is that New Hampshire is the place where the overarching, orderly narrative of our politics broke down four years ago and has yet to be put together. 2016 was wholesale rebellion: Trump 3 to 1 over Jeb and the Bush dynasty; Bernie’s Democratic socialism in a double landslide over Hillary Clinton’s party regulars.Site of the in-process Pittsfield Historical Society in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire’s presidential primary marks the spot where the old-normal narrative of party politics fell apart four years ago. It was a sharper turn than many people noticed, and decisive for the country: Donald Trump out of reality television beat the patrician Republican Jeb Bush by a 3-to-1 margin. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders added “socialist” to his ID and beat Hillary Clinton’s corporate centrism by 22 points, more than 60-40. Four years later, Donald Trump is a scarred-up president riding a bump-up in popularity for surviving an impeachment. Bernie Sanders, who’ll be 79 years old before the election day in November, has survived a heart attack and repair surgery. In New Hampshire, Sanders and Trump are the hot-button names for upstarts like Pete Buttigieg to contend with, but their stories have changed. The Trump theme of discontent is long gone: American carnage out; American comeback is his ticket. Bernie is in a bind. The stronger he surges, in Iowa and maybe New Hampshire, the more he rattles the old center of his party. So bad news is good, good news is bad, and the new story is still unwritten as we hit the trail this week: up I-93 to 89, Concord to Pittsfield, then Hanover to West Lebanon.
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