Previously published at WGBHNews.org.
It’s a little after 11 p.m. With the all-important question of whether Jeb Bush will finish third or fourth in New Hampshire still unanswered, allow me to anticipate two names we’re going to be hearing in the days ahead: Michael Bloomberg. And Joe Biden.
In fact, it’s already started. And the results of the first-in-the-nation primary guarantee that it’s only going to intensify.
Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, is the more plausible of the two names given that he’s letting it be known he’s considering an independent run. The New Hampshire results make it more likely, not less, that he’ll keep gearing up for a possible campaign.
Consider what the Democrats did to themselves. Everyone was expecting Bernie Sanders to beat Hillary Clinton. But he handed her such an unexpectedly crushing defeat that she can’t help but emerge as a damaged candidate. She’s still likely to win the nomination as the campaign moves on to states with substantial African-American populations. But she’s looking more vulnerable than ever in November, provided the Republicans manage to choose a nominee who is recognizably of the human species.
Oops. Donald Trump also won big tonight. Although he fell considerably short of a majority, he got about 35 percent of the vote, far ahead of second-place finisher John Kasich. The Iowa winner, Ted Cruz, an extremist much loathed within his own party, was running third, just ahead of Bush. Marco Rubio, who seemed to be emerging as a contender until his circuit board malfunctioned at last Saturday’s debate, faded to fifth.
So the Democrats are stuck with a diminished Hillary Clinton or, less likely, a 74-year-old left-winger who—if conventional wisdom means anything at all anymore—probably could not win a general election. And Trump, detested by a majority of the public, may be on a glide path to the Republican nomination.
Of course, the conventional wisdom also holds that an independent can’t be elected president. But if the Democrats and the Republicans both nominate candidates who are unacceptable to the broad middle of the electorate that decides elections (and yes, I realize that the broad middle is a lot smaller than it used to be), then surely there is an opening for someone like Bloomberg, a moderate with a reputation for competence. Yes, he’s dour, uncharismatic, and has a well-deserved reputation for nanny-statism. But it’s precisely those non-scary qualities that could make him a viable alternative.
And the media are stoking a Bloomberg run. The veteran media critic Jack Shafer wrote for Politico earlier today that “as Bloomberg works his way through the editorial food chain and breaks through the primary election news, I’m certain reporters will be setting themselves on fire to convince their editors to assign them to Bloomberg.”
Count me as someone who thinks Bloomberg might actually be able to defeat Sanders and Trump, if that’s what it comes to.
Which brings me to a Biden candidacy, a far less likely possibility. Unlike Bloomberg, Biden has declared pretty definitively that he wouldn’t enter the race. It’s also too late logistically for him to enter the Democratic primaries.
But Biden would make some theoretical sense if the race between Clinton and Sanders ends in a muddle, or if the email controversy in which Clinton is embroiled leads to legal trouble. In either case, so this line of thinking goes, the Democratic National Convention might turn to a respected non-candidate like Biden as the nominee.
Is this going to happen? Almost certainly not. A brokered convention is a quadrennial fantasy, but it is almost impossible under the modern primary system. Still, if you search Google News for “Biden 2016,” you’ll find that plenty of people are giving the idea some thought.
For my purposes, what matters isn’t what is going to happen. Rather, it’s what you’ll be hearing from the media as the two major parties, suffering from self-inflicted wounds, limp ahead. New Hampshire not only didn’t settle anything. It left us with a race that won’t be settled for some weeks to come.