It was a better victory than even the Donald could have hoped for. With big question marks embedded.
His people showed up. He's no longer a flaky billionaire businessman, he's an election winner, and the front runner. Trump read the electorate better than any other American politician. He's invented a new political language, to the mistaken scorn of the chattering class. And, if you want to think about the general election, he's showing signs of support from Dems and Independents. Well done.
Jeb got a shot of oxygen at the last possible moment. Chris Christie head-butted young Marco and Kasich and Bush seemed to pick up what Rubio lost. He'll do well in South Carolina, with Kasich unable to keep up. New Hampshire made him the likely "Establishment" alternative to Trump.
Rubio diminished. Christie, a hit-man for the establishment, nothing more. Kasich, a bouquet from voters for keeping his cool. Ted Cruz, just enough to keep him sneering through Super Tuesday. Carson and Fiorina nowhere.
Big Conclusion: I DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE TRUMP'S APPEAL. He's harnessed the national anger. He's attracting new voters; one-third of the voters in the Republican Primary are not registered Republicans and they came in heavily for Trump. He's left himself more ideological flexibility than any other Republican with his willingness to tax the rich and protect Medicare. He's "authentic" in a year where fakery and veneer don't sell. He won't disappear, someone is going to have to beat him.
Big Conclusion II: ITS ALL ABOUT ANGER, NOT ABOUT IDEOLOGY. The Republican Party is roughly evenly divided. There are the Crazies (Trump, Cruz, Carson) and there is the Establishment (Bush, Kasich, Rubio, Christie). This is not a division between conservatives and moderates; there's no ideological difference between the candidates; it's all about anger. Not conservatives versus moderates; Crazies versus the Establishment. A division this profound can't be papered over. This can turn into civil war, and the loser's voters will stay home.
Big Conclusion III: JEB IS THE LIKELY ALTERNATIVE TO TRUMP. He's got the money, the rollout of upcoming primary states helps him, he will inherit those fleeing Rubio, Christie, Fiorina etc. Cruz will reap the whirlwind and fade. Kasich will run out of steam and money in South Carolina. And even at his lowest point, no one really disliked Jeb and he's got the chops to seize the moment.
And here are the Big Questions...
Can Trump attract more than one-third of the Republican electorate? He's widely viewed as having a "ceiling" that can win in a divided field, but loses in a head to head contest with the Establishment candidate. Attempts to broaden his appeal risk losing his "authenticity" and the fervor of his true believers. Trump's real work begins now.
Can Bush pull together the anti-Trump Establishment coalition? It's there to be had. But no one has found a way to lay a glove on the Donald, and Jeb has never been much at one-on-one smackdown politics.
And most importantly...
Why are we so angry? What can we do with all this anger? And who can lead a nation so divided and angry?
We're going to chose a President. But unless we also confront the sour, angry and inflamed national mood, not much will change, no matter who is president.
On to South Carolina.