MANCHESTER, N.H. – A pair of protest candidates riding a message of rage against the political and economic machine are on the cusp of an until-recently-unthinkable triumph: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are favoured to win today’s New Hampshire primary.
They’re barely even members of their respective political parties. But if the polls are correct, the billionaire ideological contortionist and the independent, Democrat-bashing socialist will emerge victorious tonight.
It just so happens that one’s campaign slogan calls for a political revolution; the other had the song, “Revolution,” blaring from the loudspeakers as he ended his final rally Monday.
“It’s a movement, folks. A movement,” Trump said, before exiting to the Beatles tune. “We are angry. We’re angry at incompetence.”
Should the polls prove accurate analysts will be poring over the results, examining two details: On the Democratic side, by how much did Sanders win? Among Republicans, will a mainstream contender break from the logjam behind Trump, or will those establishment forces remain split four ways?
The answers to those two questions could determine whether these outsiders are a northeastern flash-in-the-pain, or an enduring force to be reckoned with as the primaries shift south.
One word of caution about trusting pundits’ analysis after-the-fact: Should either of these men win, it would cast a considerable cloud over the track-record of such prognostication.
Political cognoscenti predicted Trump would never even run, let alone win anything. Numerous opinion pieces last year speculated that his latest tease of a candidacy was just another empty, attention-grabbing gambit.
Few reporters even bothered to show up for Sanders’ campaign launch on the lawn of Capitol Hill. In the initial polls after his launch, he was behind Hillary Clinton by 40 percentage points in New Hampshire – 51-11.
Both candidates blame a corrupt, special-interest-funded political class for selling out American workers. They diverge on how to deal with it, beyond their shared vow to rip up trade deals.
Sanders wants to expand the social-safety net to include Canadian-style health care, parental leave, and free college tuition. Trump says he’d maintain current social programs and set his sights elsewhere: on kicking out low-wage, under-the-table foreign workers.
The crowd at Trump’s rally cheered promises that veered from the political left (health access for everyone, protect old-age programs, get tough on drug companies) to the right (gun freedom, military buildup, do away with political correctness and let people say, “Merry Christmas”). Their main consistency was working-class grievance.
There’s an out-of-use political term for such voters: Reagan Democrats.
And up in the stands, retired cop Chip Paquette explained that after admiring John F. Kennedy, voting for Ronald Reagan, then for Bill Clinton, and then becoming disgusted with the whole lot of them, he’s now big on Trump.
He wants his social-security pension protected. He wants gun rights. And he wants America to be a little more like the old days – without all this political correctness, coddling foreigners, and people bellyaching about police brutality should a cop bop a bad guy on the nose.
Paquette revelled in Trump’s jokes.
He nudged his seat-made to check his reaction to applause lines. One was when Trump repeated a vulgar term for female genitalia, used by an audience member to refer to opponents who oppose water-boarding.
Trump also joked about his supporters being hurt in car accidents in the evening’s blizzard – he said he wouldn’t care, if it happened after they voted.
“He’s a little rough around the edges,” Paquette said.
“But I respect what he says. He’s telling the truth. And I don’t like the politically correct crap. Because I’m not politically correct, believe me.”
So who would Paquette support if Trump dropped out?
His reply: Bernie Sanders.
It might surprise some people that a Trump-Sanders voter exists. But another New Hampshire resident said there’s an obvious common thread running through their campaigns.
That thread is middle-class frustration – over stagnant wages, and low-skilled jobs being lost to computers and foreigners.
“Malaise,” said Robbie Grady, at a Hillary Clinton rally.
“Somebody who seems like an outsider, who has ideas that nobody else has voiced and maybe speaks to some of the discontent, becomes very intriguing. I think it’s why Donald Trump is intriguing.”
She expressed her disapproval of Trump by miming a gagging motion, sticking her index finger into her mouth. She plans to vote for Clinton, or a moderate Republican if Sanders becomes the nominee.
She has grave doubts about both New Hampshire front-runners.
“(Trump) speaks to people’s fears. Bernie speaks to people’s wants. We (all) want everyone to be on a level playing field. And a lot of the things he says are really good. But I don’t see that he would have the capacity to actually get things done.”