Opinion

Scot Lehigh

The end of the beginning

Republican primarY voters shuffled the deck Tuesday, adding some clarity, but leaving lots for other states to decide.

The Donald is still trump, and the only face card in a fractured field. But he’s a jack, not a king or a queen. His “message,” so-called, is equal parts bluster, braggadocio, and bombastic proposals. At some point, some of that will become apparent – won’t it?

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To be sure, Trump, who loves citing his polling numbers, can now claim those numbers aren’t just written in sand, the way they seemed in Iowa.

But to nick a line from Winston Churchill, this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end. It’s only the end of the beginning.

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And that’s all it should be. There’s a tendency among pundits to say that there are only two or three tickets out of New Hampshire.

Not so. Not this year.

John Kasich, the second-place finisher, will now get the attention he has long deserved — and will have a chance to make his case on a national stage.

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Even as Kasich’s troops celebrated his success, commentators were predicting trouble as the campaign moves beyond New Hampshire, where he had focused much of his effort. Perhaps, but as the successful governor of Ohio, an important swing state, he could develop some real appeal with Republicans who are more concerned with winning and governing than on imposing conservative ideological purity on the Republican Party.

Cruz, the winner in Iowa, didn’t show any particular ability to expand his appeal in New Hampshire, but his strength has always been in the south. That being the case, his Granite State finish doesn’t say much one way or another about his future viability.

Left for dead — or near-dead, anyway — Jeb Bush bounced back to a stay-alive finish. He has the money and organization to move forward. And South Carolina, the next primary, is a state that has been kind to other Bush candidacies.

Marco Rubio is a different case. He had, strangely, been considered the most impressive of the so-called establishment-lane candidates. After his dismal debate performance, he’s now campaigning under a cloud of considerable doubt. Yet this wasn’t a disastrous or crushing showing for him; at deadline, he looked like he would finish reasonably close to Cruz and Bush.

The view here is that all those candidates can plausibly press forward to the next contests.

But the New Hampshire truths will be tougher for Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson — and, oh yes, Jim Gilmore.

As they leave the Granite State, their candidacies are in a tailspin.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.
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