I awoke Thursday morning to a turkey brawl in my back yard. Fourteen wild turkeys, all hugely fattened for the New Hampshire winter, were out in my back pasture just beating the living hell out of each other, a little brown cyclone of gobbling and flying feathers and flapping wings. The dog was too astonished to bark. They battled their way to the tree line like 14 Thanksgiving dinners gone wild, abruptly broke it up, and disappeared in orderly fashion into the darkness of the woods.
If a more perfect metaphor for the 2016 New Hampshire primary and the presidential race in general has presented itself, I haven’t heard of it. I watched the melee and thought, “There’s Trump strutting. There’s Jeb with his head down. There’s Kasich being ignored. There’s Carly firing all of them. And look! There’s Bernie chasing Hillary, hot on her heels.” If the turkey fight had left four decapitated birds in the yard, the image would have been complete. My wife found me giggling like a titmouse by the kitchen window, and I had some trouble explaining why.
Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and Martin O’Malley have come to their nadir by the side of that dusty campaign road, cut down in Iowa like so much corn. Huckabee and Santorum had no business in the race; this was a doomed ego trip/fundraising tour for them, and it wasted everybody’s time.
Paul’s awful showing and early departure is the real surprise, however. A whole bunch of smart people had him bracketed as the GOP favorite not so long ago, and now? Back to the salon, to get all that Iowa chaff out of his hair. The departure of O’Malley from the race is a disappointment; he added depth to the conversation on the Democratic side regarding immigration, the environment and gun control, but was lost in the media jetwash of the Clinton juggernaut and the Sanders surge. So it goes.
Speaking of turkeys, Donald Trump didn’t wait 24 hours after Iowa before freaking out. He gave a humble, thankful speech on Monday night after Ted Cruz kneecapped him, and the country went, “Wow, that was unexpected.” By Tuesday afternoon he was lobbing bombs again and the country went, “Yup, he’s back.”
First, Trump attacked the Iowa voters themselves (again), whining that they “didn’t appreciate” his campaign. Then he went after Cruz specifically and personally, accusing him of fraud and demanding that a new caucus be held, or the Iowa results be nullified completely. Beyond shushing Jeb, he hung back during Saturday’s GOP debate and let the rest of the candidates chew on each other, which they did.
“The Donald” does not suffer setbacks gladly, and his vivid unspooling will continue if he keeps taking punches he can’t return. Still, Trump retains a sizeable lead here in New Hampshire, with Rubio and Cruz behind, although Rubio did himself no favors on Saturday night. Chris Christie, quite simply, ate his lunch and didn’t leave a tip.
How much Trump’s lead has been affected by his loss in Iowa, by his subsequent tantrums and by his latest debate performance remains to be seen. That kind of stuff doesn’t play well in the Granite State. He is still the smart-money bet at the moment, but then again, he was the smart-money bet last week, too.
Ben Carson’s chances are on life support. The Washington Post reported on Thursday that his campaign is firing dozens of people and slashing salaries because the fundraising has dried up. There is even talk – heaven forefend! – of the candidate being financially forced to take commercial flights instead of private jets to his campaign stops.
The next time you’re on a Delta or JetBlue flight, look at the passenger next to you. He might just be a soft-spoken neurosurgeon with no hope. Only if you’re flying in the next week or so, though; this window of opportunity appears to be closing rapidly.
And then there’s Jeb … oh, Jeb. Whither goes the exclamation point? At a campaign spot up here in Hanover last week, Bush unleashed a tirade about killing everything that threatens us and defending the country, and was met with granite-stony silence from the audience. He hung his head, put out his hands and said, “Please clap.”
It was pathetic beyond the bounds of space, time, matter, energy, everything. It was his Muskie Moment. He landed one good punch on Trump on Saturday, and that will be his campaign epitaph. Jeb is done, I think. He is getting creamed in every New Hampshire poll, and will not be on the stage much longer. At long, long last, the electorate has taken the Bush dynasty and broken it over their knee … not with a bang, but a whimper. Literally.
On the Democratic side, there appear to be few surprises in store come Tuesday. Bernie Sanders is leading Hillary Clinton by as much as 20 points in New Hampshire. The polling site fivethirtyeight.com gives him a 96 percent chance of winning the state, which isn’t surprising given that he lives a golf shot down the road.
Thursday night’s Democratic debate, despite its feistiness, will likely do little to change those numbers. After Tuesday, it’s Nevada, then South Carolina and then Super Tuesday, upon which many things will be known. Is the Sanders campaign durable enough to make up the polling deficits they’re dealing with in all those states, or will the Clinton steamroller finally be unleashed? As the old radio show used to say, only the Shadow knows.
On Tuesday morning, I will roll down the mountain through the blowing snow to the community center and cast my ballot, grab the mail, get some coffee and then head home to watch the returns. Like as not, I’ll encounter an insouciant flock of turkeys in the road, maybe even the ones that were fighting in my yard Thursday morning. The damned things are everywhere these days, even on the TV. This, too, shall pass.