February 8, 2016
Post-vote spin always matters. It’s part of the game and an important task for candidates, their strategists, communications team, and surrogates. Depending on how things shake out tomorrow, this might be the most consequential post-primary spin in modern history.
Consider what the following GOP candidates are likely to claim tomorrow:Donald Trump
Observers are going to worry about the margin of victory. The Donald would like a big win, but at this point he will take any win. He’s very likely to exit New Hampshire with more delegates than any other candidate.
This would leave him a good 98% short of the total he needs for the nomination, but no matter. A win is a win is a win. That’s his tune as long as it happens. Should Trump fall short, it’s time for damage control.
Assuming Cruz isn’t the candidate to best him, he’ll go back to the delegate count. Get really used to hearing Trump has the most delegates. Whether he wins by a lot, a little, or loses narrowly, he’s going there.
If Rubio finishes second, he’s declaring victory. Much like in Iowa, it’s justifiable. Even before he turned into RubioBot in the debate, things were close, with numbers indicating positions 2 through 5 were completely up in the air.
Surviving after having clips of his Christie exchange played over and over again is a victory. If the governors couldn’t beat him after moving to New Hampshire and having him slip up in the debate, when exactly do they expect to?
If he finishes third, behind Kasich, Marco may try the same approach. He’d have finished ahead of his two biggest critics, plus Cruz. This runs the risk of scorn, you can only celebrate a bronze medal so many times, but don’t be shocked if he does it.
No matter what, he’ll remain defiant as he was with George Stephanopolous yesterday and on CBS today. Even if he finishes fifth or sixth, as long as the gap between him and those above him is small, the campaign will point out he crushed them in Iowa and they squeaked past him in New Hampshire.
That might not work, but they’ll try. He announced a new endorsement today, Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer. Don’t be surprised if he has another couple lined up for Wednesday morning if necessary.
While Jeb and Christie indicate they are marching on to South Carolina no matter what, Kasich does not. He says he needs to do well to continue and expects to. A second place finish is a victory speech.
Based on his record, we can’t assume coherence in this speech. If he can make a clear and clean argument to South Carolina voters, it’s a sign we might need to actually give the Kasich effort some real thought. He did a very good job talking to New Hampshire voters from the Iowa debate. Can he shift southward if he gets good news?
A strong third, particularly if he’s the top governor, and he probably continues. Figure on a slightly muted version of the above. After the amount of time he spent in New Hampshire and the way he targeted himself more specifically to Granite State Independents than the other governors, it’s hard to justify moving forward if he does worse.
Nobody is talking much about Ted Cruz. He won Iowa. Remember? Ben Carson does. This is to his benefit. If he finishes second or third, or finishes ahead of Rubio at all, it’s a victory and he will act as such. New Hampshire is not his place. Terrain is more favorable going forward.
If he finishes fifth or sixth, it’s likely in a group with a couple other candidates. There are only so many establishment-friendly votes to go around. Everyone will obsess over which governor finished where and how badly (if at all) Rubio cratered.
Ted’s bigger concern for South Carolina is Trump. A Donald victory gives him momentum. Expect the Cruz team to try to cut down The Donald’s win if he hangs on, or make a big deal of another collapse.
Second place, he declares victory. Third place, particularly if Kasich or Cruz is second, he declares momentum. Fourth place, he says South Carolina needs to speak before anyone reaches any conclusions. Fifth means he trailed at least two of Kasich, Rubio, Christie, making continuation arguments difficult. Sixth and only pride is keeping him in.
The problem is any of those outcomes are possible. His team has more to prepare for than any other. Christie is unlikely to finish in the top three. Kasich is unlikely to stick around if he doesn’t. Rubio basically has his good finish/bad finish spin ready. Same for Cruz. Only Bush has this many specific gradations.
The governor released his South Carolina schedule today. This might mean he’s planning on continuing to the Palmetto State no matter what happens tomorrow. It’s what he’s saying he’s up to. It might just mean he doesn’t want possible voters thinking they are wasting their support on him.
He’d say the same thing either way.
If he finishes fifth or higher, the pitch is it’s a new race post-debate. He’s already saying this. Christie will argue he needs more time to prosecute his case against Rubio.
He might try the same if he comes in 6th, but losing to Rubio after carving him up in the debate, plus finishing behind the other governors really doesn’t give him much to work with. If the 2nd through 6th place finishers are in a virtual tie, that’s one thing. Otherwise, he needs to exit.
Being excluded from the debate was patently unfair. Prior to Saturday night, she’d pulled mostly even with Christie in the polls (more due to Chris sliding than Carly rising). For all we know, Fiorina would have had a signature moment of her own.
She will not exit the race after New Hampshire. Carly has money set aside for the next couple/few weeks and some organization on the ground, in fact, she’s likely got more ground coverage than Christie.
Her main issue is ensuring participation in the next debate. Expect her and team to focus spin efforts in that direction. Fiorina has a good chance of finishing ahead of Ben Carson in the polls. Expect her to point out she continues to finish ahead of people who are being included while she’s left out.
The other tricky question is how many GOP candidates make a victory or concession speech in front of a nationwide cable audience. In Iowa, the top two Democrats and top three Republicans got to speak. Most of the other candidates were already in transit or back in New Hampshire.
There was a huge gap between the top finishers and everyone else. Here, you can argue several Republicans, in addition to Hillary and Bernie, deserve their chance to speak. Which candidates want to make a big speech? How do they coordinate the timing? How do the cable networks (especially Fox) decide who to show?
Cruz gave a rambling, 40 minute victory speech in Iowa. Hillary jumped on stage while he was continuing, and the cameras followed her. Anybody expecting full coverage needs to say what they need to say in 7 to 10 minutes tops.