Perhaps you think New Hampshire sent us a mixed message. After all, Bernie Sanders won but the moderates got more votes, and Tuesday night three different candidates seemed to be giving victory speeches.
What does the Democratic rank-and-file really want? Well, the answer is: Ralph in Michigan.
Ralph is the symbol of all the people in swing states who went for Barack Obama and then turned Republican in 2016. Democrats want him back! They care way less about finding a candidate with the perfect health care plan than finding one who can rid the world of President Trump.
And who does Ralph want? Somebody who looks more reasonable than the current occupant of the White House? Well, that’s all the Democratic candidates. And pretty much every other elected official in recent memory.
OK, maybe not the senator who got arrested for lewd conduct in a men’s restroom. But even the congressman who used campaign donations to fly around his pet bunny can’t compare to a president who bills the government $650 a night for putting up the agents who have to provide security when he goes to Mar-a-Lago.
Getting rid of Trump is everything. While nobody in either party has ever described him as restrained, he’s gotten worse since he skittered past the impeachment crisis. A normal unhinged president might, say, fire a Cabinet member on a whim. Trump preferred to can a distinguished military officer for being the brother of an officer who testified about the Ukraine situation under subpoena.
How do you think Ralph would react if a Democratic candidate connected the brothers’ story to Trump’s draft-dodging bone spur? Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, is definitely into bringing up that bone spur.
We’re presuming Ralph is a non-crazy, non-racist average person who thought it was time for a change when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee. And liked Trump’s, um, spunkiness. Now he’s begun to worry that there’s a tad too much spunk in the current White House.
Who do you think he’d be looking at now? Probably not Joe Biden anymore.
Although Biden is certainly holding out hope. “It is important that Iowa and Nevada have spoken, but, look, we need to hear from Nevada and South Carolina,” the former vice president said, in what would have been a New Hampshire concession speech if he had not forgotten the name of the state he just lost.
Biden has now run for president three times and he’s never won a primary. Or come in second. Or third. Ralph cannot possibly be impressed.
Elizabeth Warren’s only possible consolation for her poor showing was that she came in ahead of Joe Biden. But she was spunky even in defeat. Warned the party against “harsh tactics” and then posed for a ton of selfies. Kudos.
And what about Bernie Sanders? He won, but he beat Buttigieg by fewer than 4,000 votes — out of nearly 300,000 cast. And although Sanders does do well with working-class voters, I doubt Mrs. Ralph is going to come around unless he learns how to talk about, say, eliminating college tuition without shouting and scowling.
The big winner in New Hampshire was Amy Klobuchar, who came in a rather impressive third. Now she’s a very serious candidate, and it will be interesting to see how Trump decides to attack her. Sanders has already entered the president’s rally speeches as Crazy Bernie, and Trump has devoted quite a bit of time to making fun of Buttigieg’s name. Klobuchar hasn’t really come up much, except for a tweet in which he referred to the Minnesota Democrat as “Snowman (woman)!”
If Klobuchar keeps climbing, soon the Trump crowds will be chanting “Lock her up!” Really, any woman will do. This week, they did it for Nancy Pelosi. Any minute now, it’ll be Oprah Winfrey.
But back to Ralph the target swing voter. We have not discussed how old he is. That matters a lot. Sanders, 78, has huge support from younger Democrats, but in New Hampshire he got only 14% of the voters over 65. Buttigieg, 38, got nearly a quarter of those older voters.
What’s the story?
A) Mayor Pete reminds them of their grandchildren.
B) Bernie reminds them of the guy at their coffee shop who never treats and won’t stop complaining about the weather.
C) Millennials hear Sanders speeches and think he’s rapping.
We should probably pause to congratulate New Hampshire for getting the votes counted right away. It’s sort of the dream state for candidates who believe that if the citizenry just got to know them, they’d be converted to their cause. Now the dream is over for people like Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet. We’re down to just eight contenders.
Civics quiz: Name all eight of them.
Don’t look at me — I’m not going to tell you.
Right now, Michael Bloomberg is pretty darned popular. Most people don’t know much about him except his ads — he’s sort of the political equivalent of Geico. But we’ll have much more opportunity to be snide about his campaign once we get to Super Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ralph hasn’t made up his mind. But we’ve come a long way. Hopes soaring, hopes crushed. And if we ever get Iowa totally straightened out, the Democrats will have allocated nearly 2% of the delegates to the convention.
Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.