Opinion Columns & Blogs

Millard Grimes: Newt could help Kasich in S.C.

The New Hampshire primary was a good day for democracy in the United States; not a great day, but an encouraging one. A record 260,000 New Hampshire primary voters went to the polls in the aftermath of a blizzard, with snow still falling in many areas. Hundreds were still in long lines when the polls officially closed. The temperatures were below freezing; those voters really wanted to make their ballot count.

But what did they vote for, and what message did they offer the rest of the nation?

Perhaps most important, the New Hampshire results restored order to the roster of the Republican presidential candidates. Yes, Donald Trump, an outlier as he is called, led the field by a large margin. But in a clear second place was John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, who has been among the also-rans in the polls and in the Iowa caucus. His sudden jump into contention was the real surprise of the night and puts him in place as a legitimate contender for the nomination. The so-called "establishment" in the party finally has a candidate it can rally around. Jeb Bush remains the "establishment's" first choice and he stayed alive in the race by finishing fourth, just behind Ted Cruz, the Iowa winner, but just ahead of Mark Rubio, the third-place finisher in Iowa. Rubio, a 44-year old first-term senator from Florida, seems to have forfeited any claim to be a contender, which may be the most gratifying message from New Hampshire. His youth and good looks had obscured oratory which was as inflammatory and shallow as any on the Republican circuit and delivered in a more churlish manner. The field, the party and the nation will be better off with Rubio on the presidential sidelines, and perhaps out of the Senate.

Trump, with 100,000 votes, to 41,951 for Kasich, easily paced the field and became the legitimate candidate for the nomination. Trump, of course, has been a celebrity for years as a television star as the Boss in "The Apprentice," where he made the line "You're fired" famous. He is also known as a business tycoon who changed the skyline of New York City; a builder of casinos and hotels along the New Jersey coast; and married three times, twice to immigrants who grew up in communist Europe and once to Marla Maples of Dalton, Ga. He was the author of the bestselling book, "The Art of the Deal," some 25 years ago. At 69, he is the best known candidate outside of politics to be a presidential contender since Ronald Reagan, a veteran actor and TV performer, but Reagan had been governor of California eight years. Trump, on the other hand, has never served in any public office. He has been a Democratic voter most of his life, and reportedly has never voted in a Republican primary. A movie based on "Art of the Deal" is scheduled to be released this year, starring Johnny Depp as Trump.

In New Hampshire, the voters sifted through the large Republican field and elevated the candidate most likely to challenge Trump. Eight Republican presidents in the past were governors of Ohio and it is arguable the most important "swing state" in the Electoral College. Kasich was a longtime congressman before running for governor. In Congress he was one of former Speaker Newt Gingrich's main lieutenants and chairman of the budget committee during the last years of the Bill Clinton administration when the federal budget was last balanced. He and Jeb Bush were called the "grownups" in the Republican field, and now Kasich heads into the South Carolina primary with momentum against Bush, who edged Cruz for fourth place in New Hampshire. A big help to Kasich in South Carolina would be an endorsement by his old colleague Gingrich, who easily won the 2012 primary there.

By contrast, Bill Clinton received 26,000 votes in the famous 1992 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, finishing a distant second to Senator Paul Tsongas who received 43,000 votes. However, he won the perception race by claiming to be the "comeback kid" after his campaign was rocked with allegations of a longtime sexual affair with Gennifer Flowers. He was saved by a wife who steadfastly stood by him and 24 years later was the early favorite to win the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, as she had done in 2008 against Barack Obama.

Hillary Clinton's landslide loss to Senator Bernie Sanders was the second biggest story out of the primary. Sanders got 151,000 votes to Hillary Clinton's 92,000 and Trump's 102,000, making Sanders the overall winner among the voters.

His victory speech Tuesday night was the most liberal or progressive speech ever made by a major contender for U.S. President. According to exit polls, 84% of the Democratic voters support President Obama's policies but some complained they were not "liberal" enough.

By contrast, 64% of Republican voters agreed with Trump that the U.S. should ban all Muslim immigrants on to the U.S., a result that visibly unnerved the TV commentators covering the primary.

Sanders' speech must have truly unnerved conservative talk radio hosts, as it demonstrated a definite move to the left by Democrats, much further than Obama or the Clintons ever suggested.

It can be argued that the second place for Kasich is a slight movement by the Republicans since Kasich has accepted the Obama health care plans for Medicaid expansion in Ohio and is more lenient toward illegal immigrants, positions expected to hurt him in the Republican primaries.

The South Carolina primary will offer a clearer answer as Cruz and Rubio are both dedicated to repealing all aspects of the Healthcare Reform Act, including the Medicaid funds to the states.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, moved on, wounded by the loss to Sanders, but still with the organizations, the money and the determination to realize her dream of being the second Clinton to win the White House.

Millard Grimes, editor of the Columbus Enquirer from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II."