My wife and I watched the results come in last night on MSNBC and the four speeches by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and John Kasich. Surprisingly, the best speech of the bunch was by Kasich, but more on that in a moment.
Hillary charged ahead with a concession speech that was basically a recycled stump speech. It looked like she was using tele-prompters. She offered the obligatory thanks to her supporters, to New Hampshire, and so on, but you could tell she just wanted to move on from her crushing defeat. She has real difficulty connecting with an audience, and her campaign's message that she's the most competent candidate, the one best able to step into the Oval Office on day one, simply isn't resonating with voters who are fed up with establishment politics.
Bernie went next and also gave a modified version of his stump speech. He spoke too long, but I'm guessing he was doing his best to exploit his "prime time" moment. He offered kind words for Clinton, but then proceeded to attack the politics as usual that she represents. What got me most was the genuine excitement in the room for Bernie. The people cheering behind him were an especially eclectic and vibrant mix (I know the "optics" are usually managed, but still). There was a young black guy wearing a hat and a Bernie t-shirt who was simply a riot. (He was standing behind and to Bernie's left.) My wife and I looked at each other and said: "He should be Bernie's Vice President."
Trump came on the heels of Bernie, and the shift in tone was immediate. With Bernie, it's all about the movement. With Trump, it's all about Trump. Flanked by his photogenic family, Trump once again told Americans how he is going to make America "great" again, how America is going to win again -- at negotiating treaties, with the economy, with wars -- heck, I guess we're going to win at EVERYTHING with Trump in command. Again he boasted how he's going to make the U.S. military so big and so strong that no one will dare attack us. In a word, he bloviated. But Trump should never be dismissed lightly, certainly not after his decisive victory in New Hampshire.
Kasich came next after Trump, and again the tone shifted. Coming in a strong second in NH, Kasich talked about listening to the American people, and how the 100+ "town halls" he had done had changed him as a candidate and as a person. He told personal stories and connected with the audience; he closed on a note of compassion, asking Americans to decompress, to take time to listen to one another, to find time for reflection. His speech was the most personal and heartfelt of the four that I heard, and I found myself hoping that Kasich's message would ultimately triumph over the bellicosity of Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and the rest of the Republicans.
Overall, last night was a night of surprises, with two unconventional candidates, Sanders and Trump, winning convincingly. Their messages, of course, are polar opposites. Bernie wants a better future for all Americans, especially for the disadvantaged, whereas Trump is all about making America big and strong, a "winner." Put differently, Sanders sees a lot of ordinary Americans who are losing in today's "rigged" economy, and he wants to lift them up. Trump sees America writ large as losing, even some of the wealthiest, vis-a-vis foreign competitors like China, and he says he'll lift all of America up.
It's that message of uplift, expressed so differently by Sanders and Trump, that resonated so powerfully in New Hampshire.
William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, blogs at Bracing Views.