New Hampshire Republican primary voters on Tuesday made official their choice for president of the United States: real estate mogul and reality television star Donald J. Trump.
The businessman's resounding victory amid a crowded field of more experienced and accomplished candidates is a stunning turn of events for a party that vowed just four years ago to be more inclusive to minorities after failing to unseat President Barack Obama in the bitter 2012 election. What the GOP got instead is a xenophobic demagogue who's insulted pretty much everyone and even earned the endorsement of white supremacists. Trump's victory in New Hampshire likely points to a drawn-out slog between Trump and at least one of his rivals as they battle to secure enough delegates in hopes of winning their party's nomination this summer.
Trump defeated a crop of experienced candidates Tuesday, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, all of whom seemed more interested in fighting each other than taking on the longtime leader of the polls in the Granite State. Trump also fended off two well-spoken conservative senators -- Marco Rubio of Florida, who'd surged in the days before the primary, and Ted Cruz of Texas, who won the Iowa caucuses last week.
The message from New Hampshire was clear: Voters fed up with Democrats and Republicans alike desire a politically incorrect outsider, one not beholden to special interests or rich donors, one who can actually break the perpetual gridlock in Washington.
Trump declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination in June following weeks of mockery in the press, with plenty of skeptical commentators noting that he'd been making similar noises about running for president for years. When he finally announced his bid, many pundits and party officials alike viewed Trump's candidacy as essentially a comic spectacle.
But in time, the celebrity entertainer proved everyone wrong.
Trump rocketed to the top of the national polls with his populist message to "make America great again" by building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and strong-arming the rest of the world into more favorable economic policy. (He still hasn't offered a lot of specifics about how he would do any of this, usually just pointing to his reputation as a macho billionaire dealmaker whenever the question comes up.)
Before long, Trump was dominating news cycles using a media strategy he described decades before his presidential run, in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. The candidate essentially sucked the air out of rival campaigns by regularly dishing out controversy -- lobbing attacks against war heroes, racial groups, women, news anchors and entire religions. With each new crude display, the press gave Trump more and more exposure, making it ever more difficult for his rivals to make their own platforms known.
It would take too long to list every instance from the past year when Trump showed contempt for other human beings, but some highlights come to mind. He insulted immigrants by calling some of those entering the U.S. from Mexico "rapists." He said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the party's 2008 presidential nominee and onetime prisoner of war, wasn't, in fact, a hero, because he was captured by the enemy. ("I like people that weren't captured, OK?") He mocked a reporter with a disability. He said Fox News host Megyn Kelly had "blood coming out of her wherever" after a Republican presidential debate that she moderated. He said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got "schlonged" in a recent Democratic primary debate. And he's called for a temporary ban of Muslims entering into the United States -- prompting denouncements from leaders around the world, as well as from within his own party.
Perhaps his most profound impact on the 2016 presidential race, however, has been to force more moderate, commonsense Republicans to lurch desperately rightward on issues like immigration. Long gone is Rubio's support for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, for example, and even Kasich, the governor of a diverse state, now supports building a wall on the country's southern border. Some candidates have even echoed Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric, opposing the resettling of Syrian refugees on U.S. soil.
Trump's real legacy, whether or not he wins the nomination, may ultimately be the damage he does to the Republican brand during the general election and in the many down-ballot races for Congress come November. Despite winning the favor of the primary crowd, Trump remains deeply unpopular with general election voters. With his victory in New Hampshire, however, Trump can claim major momentum going into the next primary contest in South Carolina - where he also leads by double digits - guaranteeing more GOP soul-searching to come.
Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
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