The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

How the Republican Candidates' New Hampshire Predictions Got It Wrong

Before the New Hampshire primary most of the campaigns were promising victories, but few managed to back up their words.

by John Surico
Feb 10 2016, 3:47pm

The Shaskeen Pub in Manchester, New Hampshire. All photos by Jason Bergman

Over the weekend in New Hampshire, I heard Republicans say a lot of different things.

In a school cafeteria in Londonderry, Marco Rubio said Barack Obama was fundamentally changing our country, and that we never see "boatloads of American refugees" washing up on other countries' shores—evidence of our greatness. In a school auditorium in Bedford, Jeb Bush defended his brother's legacy, and said Donald Trump needed "therapy." And, to a packed audience in the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, Trump indirectly called Ted Cruz a pussy.

All those speeches eventually came around to the same point: Whoever was talking needed to win the "first in the nation" primary here on Tuesday, both to save America from the Democrats and because their political lives kinda depended on it. Every candidate was projecting confidence—though Trump, the eventual winner, held a "yuuge" lead in the polls, second place was up for grabs, and third, and fourth, and so on.

Read Bun B's latest dispatch from New Hampshire

But though everyone was busy making promises about how well they'd do in the primary vote, the actual primary vote proved almost all of them wrong. Here's a look at how the candidates and their campaigns said they'd do, and how those promises panned out.

John Kasich

What He Said: Kasich can come off as an affectionately daddish figure, the moderate grown-up in a field full of war-mongering toddlers. "Look, I have trouble with Republicans, too," he told folks in Plainstow. "I have to talk to them seriously about stuff. It's not always easy." The no-frills dude was banking on a strong showing New Hampshire to prove that his message of balanced budgets and working to get things done actually appeals to people.

What Actually Happened: Kasich proudly told voters and reporters that, by Tuesday, he had done 106 town halls—a grueling ground game that introduced the candidate to a state that barely knew him a few months ago. And it looks like grassroots campaigning like that can still work: Kasich finished in second in New Hampshire, with nearly 16 percent. The "happy warrior," as he's been called, won this battle, almost guaranteeing that this race will drag on to the Republican National Conventionin July.

Ted Cruz

What He Said: Cruz won a big victory in Iowa, but New Hampshire is unfamiliar territory for him. The Granite State is more secular than the Bible Belt, more "Live Free or Die" libertarian than socially conservative. As a result, Cruz has sort of slipped from everyone's minds these past few days. The voters I spoke with rarely mentioned him, and his quiet debate performance seemed to reflect that. Cruz told people it was a "turnout game" at this point, but it wasn't clear how many New Hampshire Cruz fans there were to turn out.

What Actually Happened: People turned out all right, but not for Cruz—the Texas senator barely beat out Jeb for a third-place finish. The religious right's choice for the White House didn't find fertile ground here, and whether Cruz can replicate his Iowa result anywhere else remains to be seen.

The crowd at Chris Christie's primary night party. All photos by Jason Bergman

Jeb! Bush

What He Said: As I reported earlier this weekend, New Hampshire could have either resurrected Bush's flagging campaign, or killed it for good. In his town halls, the candidate did not obsess over polls, but, in the background, his campaign handed out "Jeb on the Rise" leaflets, showing supporters how much his numbers had improved. Jeb barely ever mentioned his chances. He just told the crowds how much he loved their state—how its residents could "change the course of anything"—and hoped they returned the affection on Tuesday.

What Actually Happened: Smiling and sure, Jeb delivered the line he's been dying to say on Tuesday night: "You've reset the race." In other words, after pulling a fourth-place finish behind Ted Cruz, but more importantly in front of Marco Rubio, the Bush scion has mustered up enough support to convince himself, and his donors, that he's not done quite yet.

Marco Rubio

What He Said: In the days after Iowa, Rubio was on a roll. He surprisingly finished in third, nearly beating out Trump, and almost instantly became the favored son of those Republicans who were scared shitless of a Trump-Cruz shootout. That all changed Saturday night, though: After his stuttering performance at the debate in Manchester, he was the butt of everyone's jokes the next morning; a man in a robot suit even showed up outside of his pancake breakfast event in Londonderry to mock the mechanical way the candidate repeated the same soundbite nearly word-for-word at the debate.

At his rallies, Rubio would hang signs that read "New Hampshire is Marco Rubio Country." But you got the sense he was just hoping everyone would forget his bad debate performance.

What Actually Happened: The Rubio saga was, by far, the biggest upset on Tuesday night. He finished in fifth place, a far cry from his strong Iowa showing. He will now likely face an uphill struggle in the next few states, as he desperately tries to recover from his malfunctions. In his post-primary speech, he even apologized to his supporters for his debate mistakes; it's clear he badly needs a reboot.

Chris Christie at his primary night event

Chris Christie

What He Said: Christie should have been right at home in New Hampshire, as a Republican governor of a nearby Democratic state who is a bit more moderate than his rivals on social issues. Logically, Christie should find support among New Hampshire's center-right, anti-Washington independents who would otherwise vote Democrat. And that's why he spent more time here than in the state he governs for a living. Although his poll numbers didn't show it, that's the line his campaign had been telling the media.

What Actually Happened: Turns out, nope. Christie didn't crack 10 percent, finished in sixth, and is now headed back to New Jersey to "regroup." Everyone is more or less expecting him to end his campaign now before he suffers another inevitable bad loss in South Carolina.

Ben Carson

What He Said: At the Trump rally the other night, another reporter asked me if the famed neurosurgeon had any events in New Hampshire: "Is he even campaigning here still?" As a matter of fact, he was, though if you weren't actively seeking out Carson stops, you probably wouldn't know that. His roadside signs were few and far between, and his debate performance on Saturday night was best remembered for his botched entrance. No one expected him to do well in New Hampshire, but he'll continue on at least until South Carolina regardless.

What Actually Happened: Before polls even closed in New Hampshire, it was reported that Carson would skip the whole watch party thing and head to South Carolina. That was probably smart: By the end of the night, Carson had finished in last place (not counting Jim Gilmore, because who ever does?). It doesn't seem as if he'll recover much ground in the next few primaries, either.

Carly Fiorina

What She Said: In a New Hampshire ad during the Super Bowl on Sunday, the former CEO HP's voice can be heard saying, "Join with me. Fight with me. Vote for me. It's time to take our country back." That sounds good and everything, but this photo of a woman eating her breakfast while Fiorina strolls through a diner in Manchester is the best symbol of her fledgling campaign here.

What Actually Happened: By Tuesday evening, it was clear the Fiorina train was losing what little steam it had. A sign-waving event on Manchester's busiest street earlier drew little press besides myself. And while her watch party was upbeat, her speech at the end of the night conveniently left out the fact of her seventh-place showing. She told the crowd at a country club in Manchester that New Hampshire "gave us wind at our back," but where it'll take her is really anyone's guess. As one supporter told me, "We're not gonna give up." But maybe they should?

Donald Trump

What He Said: After his second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, the Donald arrived in New Hampshire with an uncharacteristically modest tone (even though he still doesn't think he lost). When I saw him at his pro-wrestling rally the night before the primaries, he told the crowds that he didn't care about his "amazing" poll numbers, and that they had to vote. He said the same thing earlier that day in Salem. Trump has seemingly gone from boasting about winning to really, really trying to win.

What Actually Happened: Well, he won. For now, at least, Trump's predictions are coming true, and everyone else's are pretty much useless.

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new hampshire
Jeb Bush
Donald Trump
Ben Carson
ted cruz
Marco Rubio
Chris Christie
John Kasich
new hampshire primary
Carly Fiornia