The New Hampshire primary is over, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have emerged victorious. Sanders’ win does not come as much of a surprise, considering his home base in neighboring Vermont. However, Trump’s win in New Hampshire is a complete shock to many Americans who expected much different, and less terrifying, results from the country’s first primary. What does the outcome of the New Hampshire Republican primary mean for the future of the Grand Old Party, especially its progressive members?
Today’s Republican party consists of several different factions who are finding themselves further and further apart in ideology. The left is the home of progressives who want an end to right-wing social extremism in the party. Party members summed up their feelings on the current slate of candidates in a tweet.
— Progressive Republic (@ProgressiveReps) August 4, 2015
Meanwhile, on the far right, the Tea Party is the voice of extremely religious white voters, and Ted Cruz is their chosen candidate. In the middle, Jeb Bush represents the same Republican establishment that ensured wins for his father and brother during their bids for the presidency. The second-place winner in Monday night’s primary, John Kasich, appears to have benefited from coverage by liberal media, or so claim his Republican opponents. While the sources of support for Cruz, Bush, and even Kasich are no surprise, the fact that Trump, New Hampshire’s primary winner, is the candidate gaining the most traction with moderate Republicans is quite surprising indeed.
A survey of Iowa Republicans by Public Policy Polling in late January confirmed moderate Republicans’ support for Trump. Although the same survey wrongly predicted a Trump victory in Iowa, Cruz’s victory failed to shock most Americans who took the time to look at the state’s voter demographics. According to data from 2012’s caucus released by Drake University as part of its Iowa Caucus Project, the majority of the state’s Republican voters are white men over 45-years-old who attend church regularly. Unsurprisingly, their support went to the GOP’s most conservative candidate. What about the demographics for New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters?
A quick glance at data from an Edison Research exit poll published by the New York Times after the 2012 New Hampshire primary makes that state’s Republican voter demographics appear very similar to the demographics in Iowa. However, one major difference between the two states’ voters lies in how those voting in the New Hampshire Republican primary identify themselves politically. In 2012, only 24 percent identified themselves as very conservative, while 62 percent identified themselves as moderate to liberal. After considering the results of the survey of moderates and New Hampshire’s demographics, how can anyone be surprised that Trump emerged victorious with a whopping 35 percent of the Republican vote?
The answer to that question is “quite easily.” The New Hampshire primary is not a closed primary, which means independent voters can vote in either party’s primary. In 2012, the Democratic primary was somewhat of a non-entity because Obama had no real competition, which made the Republican primary the choice for many of the state’s independent voters. This year, the stakes were high on both sides of the party line, and many of New Hampshire’s independents, especially those who identify as politically moderate to liberal, were expected to vote in the Democratic primary.
This assumption was made based on data from the 2008 New Hampshire primary when 44 percent of independents voted in the Democratic primary and 37 percent voted in the Republican primary. However, things changed in New Hampshire in 2016, according to an MSNBC report. The report cited an NBC News Exit Poll showing 42 percent of independent voters chose to cast their ballots in the Republican primary, while only 40 percent voted in the Democratic primary. This shift among independent voters is likely what allowed Trump to gain such a big lead in New Hampshire.
The results of the New Hampshire primary should make Americans question the country’s changing political landscape. The GOP has long been the home of Reagan Republicans. More recently, it seemed Tea Party members were poised for a takeover. Now, it appears self-proclaimed moderates are making the party their own by supporting a candidate with extreme right-wing, if not necessarily religious, views. What do these changes mean for the party itself, and where does it leave its progressive members who see themselves as the modern-day rational representatives of Lincoln’s party?
After the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary resulted in different winners on the Republican side, many see the GOP on the verge of collapse. Tea Party members struggle to back Trump because he fails to represent the values they hold so dear. Moderates cannot make themselves back Cruz because his platform is too far to the right. The Reagan Republicans cannot back either candidate because they, rightly, view both as threats to the establishment, and no one knows who is backing Kasich. Meanwhile, the progressives are simply terrified at the direction the party is headed, a sentiment echoed prior to the New Hampshire primary by former Tea Party candidate Rand Paul.
— The Alan Colmes Show (@ColmesRadio) January 15, 2016
The threat of a split in the GOP has long been the subject of whispers among its members, and the progressives may be the first to go, especially since their lack of support from the moderates has been confirmed. While the other factions seem equipped to resign themselves to any outcome as long as it is branded Republican, the progressive voters’ collective consciousness will likely prevent them from showing any support for candidates from either party who base their stances on extreme views. Could the shock from the New Hampshire primary results be the fuel the Libertarians need to gain the progressive vote and become a major player on the national political scene?
[Photo by Dennis Van Tine/AP]