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Two Down, Forty-Eight to Go

Another football season is in the books, basketball won’t begin its all-important post-seasons for a few more frigid weeks, and baseball’s spring training seems an eternity away, so at the moment the only scores a sports fan has to pore over are from the New Hampshire presidential primaries. Although it’s still early in the long political race, the results are already intriguingly different from all those pre-season predictions.
Over at the Democratic league, the senior circuit in more ways than one, the presupposed long-shot, self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was a blow-out winner over former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the once-presumptive First Woman President of the United States. Following her minuscule margin of victory in the season-opening Iowa caucus, which by now everyone knows was officiated as fishily as the 1972 Olympic basketball finals, Clinton’s long-assumed coronation suddenly seems very much in doubt. All the bettors in the party and the press who went big on her candidacy seem panicked, all the big news and entertainment media are begrudgingly obliged to acknowledge the existence of a self-described socialist called Sen. Bernie Sanders, all the kids are acting like they’re at the Ed Sullivan Show when The Beatles were playing, and all those federal agents are still snooping around her e-mail accounts and fishy family foundation donations, so the race is at least more interesting than was promised.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, and any objective sportswriter might resort to an old cliche and say Clinton is in desperate need of a win there to salvage her season. In her last failed season Clinton lost badly in South Carolina, following a much-needed win in New Hampshire, but this time around she’s assumed to have a home field advantage. The more polite press are embarrassed to explain exactly why, but it’s implied that it’s something to do with the fact so many of state’s white people are Republicans that the Democratic party is largely comprised of black people. Last time around Clinton was running against Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive and sure enough First Black President, but this time she’s running as Obama’s personally-chosen Secretary of State and the wife of the first First Black President, and she’s running against a guy from the whitest state in the union that anyone who’s ever seen a “Seinfeld” episode will immediately recognize as not only New York but Jewish, and even we hesitate to imply how that will play with an average South Carolina Democrat, so if Clinton doesn’t win there it will probably mean that the establishment team is forced to make one of those messy early-season quarterback changes.
There was a blow-out win in the Republican contest, too, but to the discerning eye of a veteran political sports fan it was not so significant. Real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show mogul Donald J. Trump more than doubled the numbers of his nearest competitor, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is merely  one of the Congressmen who delivered the last more-or-less-balanced budgets and a twice-elected chief executive of a bellwether swing state, which should tell you something about how very different this season of Republican politics has already been. This is enough for the headline writers, and will allow Trump the end-zone dance that was so cruelly denied the showboating quarterback Cam Newton in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the standings. The Democrat race is already down to two teams, but the Republicans still have a crowded field of contenders, and although we wouldn’t compare it to the Masters we will analogize that there are a lot of holes left to be played. A full 66 percent of the voting went to someone other than Trump, who continues to suffer downright Clintonian levels of disapproval in the same public opinion polls that show him leading the race nationally, New Hampshire is a crazy state that goes for Pat Buchanan one year and Mitt Romney in another, and the guys who were hanging around in the round are all capable of shooting high scores.
Still, it’s a win for Trump, the end zone dance will have to be indulged, the headlines will be all that anybody reads, and those who of us who are lustily booing his professional wrestling shtick will have to get used to it for a while. The early result will likely shake out a few of the bottom-tier candidates, and their cumulatively important number of supporters will likely be distributed among the remaining candidates who are someone other than Trump, but it leaves in place all the jockeying for inside lanes that have caused all those campaign pile-ups Trump has somehow always raced past, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will still be sniping at one another and everybody will be sniping at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Iowa and had a good-enough showing in New Hampshire, for some reason known only to 16 percent of New Hampshire’s Republican voters Kasich will also be sticking around and acting above the fray. All in all, a good night for Trump.
Next on the schedule is South Carolina, though, which is a different course with different ground rules and extended three-point lines or whatever sports analogy you might prefer. Like New Hampshire it is an open primary, which allows the independents and Democrats that Trump seems to be drawing to participate in the Republican election, but the white folks and the few few black folks who predominate in the party’s voting tend to be Christian and capitalist and traditionally conservative, earning it a reputation as a “firewall” against insurgent candidacies, so it could prove unfriendly for Trump. Our best guess is that he’ll get his usual sizable chunk of the electorate, but our hope is that someone will be able to garner a competitive share of the more sizable-not-for-Trump vote. Cruz would seem a possibility, but retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson might still be around to take away some much-needed evangelical votes, and with Kasich still around to steal votes from Rubio and Bush, who are for some reason known only to themselves still squabbling with one another rather than leading a full-on assault against Trump, there’s little likelihood of whatever’s left of “the establishment” playing any role in this race.
It’s still early in the season, as already noted, but so far it looks to be a memorable one.

— Bud Norman

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