Recent presidents who have not won second full terms have struggled winning the New Hampshire primary despite the benefits of being incumbents--but Donald Trump is in excellent shape in the Granite State, a poll released last week finds.
Plenty of recent presidents have stumbled in New Hampshire. LBJ’s poor showing against Eugene McCarthy brought Bobby Kennedy in the race back in 1968 and forced the president to the sidelines. Ronald Reagan lost by a whisker to Gerald Ford in 1976, propelling his insurgent bid all the way to the GOP convention in Kansas City. Jimmy Carter struggled against Teddy Kennedy and, to a lesser extent, Jerry Brown in New Hampshire in 1980. In 1992, Pat Buchanan’s strong showing in the Granite State indicated that George H.W. Bush was a far weaker candidate that people realized. A year after fumbling in New Hampshire, LBJ, Ford, Carter and Bush were out of the White House.
Iowa’s simply not a factor when an incumbent president faces a challenge for his party’s nomination. The caucus process ensures that the incumbent will be a heavy favorite to win in the Hawkeye State. But New Hampshire is different. Voters outside the major parties can vote in the primary, one of the reasons that John McCain upset George W. Bush there in 2000. If a Republican candidate wants to force Trump to the sidelines, they need to do well in the Granite State.
A Suffolk University poll released last week shows Trump is in good shape in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney, who has Trump’s endorsement as he runs for the Senate in Utah, may have won New Hampshire back in 2012 but he is running behind Trump there this time out as the president leads 63 percent to 28 percent. Marco Rubio doesn’t exactly look like he’ll be running for president in 2020 but he was included in the poll. Rubio placed fifth in New Hampshire last time time out and isn’t in much better shape there now as Trump leads 66 percent to 23 percent.
Romney and Rubio are very unlikely to line up against Trump but they still do better against the president that two more likely challengers. John Kasich, who placed second behind Trump in New Hampshire two years ago but he also gets blown out in there with Trump up 68 percent to 23 percent. Jeff Flake fares even worse taking 15 percent, far behind Trump’s 72 percent.
A lot can happen in two years of course and Republicans might think differently about Trump if there’s a blue wave in November. But, for the moment, Trump looks pretty secure in New Hampshire which means he is in excellent shape to get renominated.
If Trump cruises to renomination--and, as of right now, that appears to be the case--he will be in a far better position in November 2020 than many pundits and prognosticators forsee. Right now, the likes of Kasich, Flake and even Romney will be hard pressed to follow in McCarthy’s, Reagan’s, Kennedy’s and Buchanan’s footsteps.