New Hampshire diary: An evening with Christie, Trump and imaginary Jews

February 4, 2016

Christie vs. Rubio

Tuesday evening in New Hampshire. A busy evening for Presidential candidates, a busy one for those following them. And it all begins with a dilemma, not unlike that of NH voters: whom should I go see tonight? My choice: see Chris Christie as an early show and leave early to make it on time for Donald Trump.

Christie speaks at a high school in Londonderry. And he speaks well, pleasing his crowd (a small yet decent number of people came out to hear him speak). His main topic: Marco Rubio, whom he calls, again, the “bubble boy.” Rubio makes candidates like Christie (and Jeb Bush – but with Bush there is the added personal drama) crazy. He is too young, too good looking, too smooth for their taste. And he had the hutzpah to not wait his turn, to not let the elders, the more experienced candidates, get their shot before coming into the race with full force.

Listening to Christie, it becomes clearer by the minute that the real GOP story in New Hampshire is actually the battle to stop Rubio, lest he becomes the only viable choice for the GOP “establishment.” The governor makes the case against him forcefully, comparing his shortcomings to those of the President, Barack Obama (a great teleprompter reader); explaining that the only question a voter should ask about the candidates is “are they ready”; telling his own story of awaiting his turn, and refusing to run four years ago – rejecting calls of encouragements from notables such as Henry Kissinger – because he was not yet “ready;” declaring Senators unfit to be President because all they do is talk.

Christie dedicates a healthy portion of his show to the Senate. A fourth-grader in the crowd is his accomplice. “Do they tell you when to come to school?” Christie asks. Of course they do, the boy answers. “You see”, Christie announces, “just like the Senate.” “Do they also tell you when it is time for recess?” he then asks. “Yes,” the boy says. Again – “just like the Senate.” And do you go on a long summer brake? And is it true that most of what you do in class is listen and talk? It goes on and on: the Senate, you see, is like fourth grade. It definitely “does not prepare you to be President.”

Besides, the public hates Congress. You all know that Congress has a 87% disapproval rating (and Christie wonders about the 13% approval – probably “family and friends”). So what happens if the GOP elects a Senator – Rubio or Cruz – to be its nominee?  Hillary Clinton would have the easiest job on earth debating these people. All she’d have to do is ask “do you serve in Congress?” and then say “I rest my case.”

New Hampshire is Christie’s and Bush’s and Kasich’s last chance to make themselves appealing to the party and its voters. If Rubio, again, appears as the only (relatively) moderate Republican with a chance to win against Cruz and Trump (a Republican friend called up yesterday to ask what I thought about the Cruz and the Crazy) – the other moderate candidates will quickly fade away, even though all of them have more practical experience that he does in “running things,” and even though all of them are more “moderate” than Rubio. In fact, Rubio’s main claim on being the better fit even for a moderate GOP establishment is his ability to communicate with both factions of the party. Better than Cruz with moderates, better than Kasich with conservatives.

Eight years ago, says Christie, we elected a good looking guy who knows how to speak. “This is not enough,” he says. But listening to him – and then looking at the polls that still say that Rubio is more likely than him to have success in New Hampshire – one wonders what happens next. Could Christie and Bush and Kasich stand behind Rubio when (and if) they move from the position of Presidential candidate to the role of, well, former candidates?

Trump vs. everybody

One would think that Iowa was a humbling experience for Donald Trump; but on Tuesday, in Milford, NH, I saw no sign of such a thing. He was as entertaining as he was last week in Iowa, and just a little less scary, but only because of his lessening chances for success (you can see a summary of what he said here).

Rand out

Rand Paul is no longer in the race. And for those of us – Americans and non-Americans – who do not want the US to become more detached from world affairs this raises a question:

Was it Paul’s message that did not resonate with the voters, or was it the fact that other candidates – notably Cruz and Trump – stole away from him key ingredients of his agenda, including isolationist elements (Paul is not a classic isolationist), and hence made his candidacy obsolete? Paul was a less appealing candidate to internationalist Americans and to Israeli observers. Cruz and Trump are less threatening to some of these Israeli observers because of their much warmer treatment of Israel (Paul came around to make the case about Israel too late in the game to change people’s perceptions of him).  

New Hampshire Jews

I had meetings with several tribe members in different rallies. But I still can’t tell you how the Jews of New Hampshire vote. There are very few of them – maybe one percent of the electorate – so no surveys of NH Jews are available. Thus, all the information we have depends on the Jew and the anecdotal moment in which you catch him or her for conversation.

Example one, Uriel Heilman of JTA: “In interview after interview, Jewish Democrats in New Hampshire leaning toward Sanders cited his authenticity as one of his most appealing characteristics.”

Example two, Noel Rubinton of The Forward: “Clinton, in contrast, attracts support from Jews on a wide range of issues. Her record on Israel, including from her years as secretary of state, seems solid with New Hampshire’s Jewish voters”.

These two reports are careful not to say explicitly which way “the Jews” lean, but reading them you do get an implicit impression that the Jews vote for Sanders (JTA’s headline: “trust Sanders”) or Clinton (the Forward’s headline: “Bernie Sanders disappoints”). Other articles also make fanciful claims whose basis in reality is shaky, such as: “there’s something about Sanders that Jewish New Yorkers see in themselves, their parents, or their grandparents…” Again, this is an article (from Newsday) that does not say that the Jews of New York are going to vote for Sanders, but seems to imply as much, without paying much attention to the fact that back in 2008 the Democrats among them voted 65% for Clinton and 33% for Obama.

Surely they will vote for him. And for Clinton. And for Trump, and Rubio, and even Cruz (but not in great numbers).

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