Exit poll

Ann Coulter, Andrew Sullivan, Sean Wilentz, David Horowitz, Joe Conason and Fran Lebowitz on George W. Bush's disaster in New Hampshire.

Published February 2, 2000 4:00PM (EST)

Ann Coulter, columnist for George magazine: Look, John McCain's my favorite Democrat, that's why I just can't figure out what he's doing in the Republican primaries. I've seen some the surveys of why people are voting for McCain, and they're siding with him on liberal issues, which tells me that it's the liberal independents who gave McCain his success. They're never going to end up voting for a Republican anyway.

Oddly, I think McCain really helps Bush because all the other candidates are to the right of him. With McCain there, Bush can always say, "I'm the conservative in this race." And conservatives, you know, they do go out and vote when its raining outside. What's more amazing is really the media's orgasm over McCain. He's the New York Times' candidate. He's Geraldo's candidate. He's Chris Matthews' candidate. I think that they just decided that, after eight years of Clinton, the next president is going to be a Republican president, so they want it to be their Republican. The smart Democrats want Bradley, but he can't win. So they went for McCain, and now his real constituency is the editors of the New York Times. And, for the most part, he's won them over.

Fran Lebowitz, essayist and humorist: Anything that will upset George Bush is OK with me. Though I do -- like, I think, millions of others -- feel personally attracted to him, I think McCain's voting record is just too far right. But George Bush -- what, we're supposed to know him by his middle initial? -- I find him loathsome. Didn't we fight that little war with England so that we don't have to deal with little princes? I don't get it. And everyone now seems to just love George Bush -- the real one, not the little one. When did that happen? The one thing about Bill Clinton I like, or I should say, the idea about Bill Clinton that I like, is that you're supposed to be able to come out of nowhere and be president.

I'm the single best voter in America. I vote in every primary, in every school board election, everything. If you don't vote, you cannot make any other comment about politics. I vote so I can complain. But I've never voted with any enthusiasm for a candidate. Among those running now, I guess I would say Bradley. I prefer him to Gore. I remember as a child how enthusiastic my parents were for Stevenson. Now the candidates are getting worse. Then again, everything has, the novelists, the movie stars ...

But to complain about the candidates and not vote is just giving up. Living in a democracy means you have to be interested in politics. You have no choice. Younger people take enormous pride in never having voted, in not having any interest. But that's an ersatz irony; the truth is there are some things that are more important. It's not entertainment and it shouldn't be treated that way. That's why I think politicians should not go on Letterman. There should be a difference between Johnny Depp and Hillary Clinton.

Sean Wilentz, Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Princeton University and a contributing editor to the New Republic: George W. Bush is the big loser tonight. If I were him, I would shake up my campaign right away -- because this does not portend well for the long haul. The Republican Party will nominate Bush, I have no doubt about that. But the primaries are a way to preview how a candidate is going to perform in the general election. If I were Bush, I would be concerned about that.

If McCain can keep up a steady barrage and come close in these primaries, then the Bush campaign should be very, very concerned. New Hampshire's not enough to do that, but it is a blow. McCain's 16-point margin was huge, a whopper. [The final margin, announced Wednesday morning, was 18 points.] Bush spent a lot of time in New Hampshire and he spent a lot of money putting on a show. I'm sure that right now , somewhere in Concord, N.H., or Austin, there's a meeting going on saying, Well, what do we do, guys? As a student of American politics, I would love to be at that meeting.

Bush's is the Republican establishment's candidacy, but New Hampshire voters are not well disposed to the party establishment. I remember in 1964 they voted for Henry Cabot, who was in Vietnam at the time. McCain basically ran to Bush's left -- and what it shows me is that, even among Republican voters, the Reagan-Bush era is dead. Bill Clinton killed it, and what we're now seeing is a shakeout. And the fact that Gore won, even if narrowly, proves that there's no such thing as "Clinton fatigue," which has been made up by the press.

For Bradley's part, he was really building momentum up until the debate in Iowa, and then everything seemed to flop. But there's still a long way to go, he's got a lot of money and he's a strong candidate. But a close loss does not do for him what it did for Eugene McCarthy in 1968 -- where a close loss was enough to practically unseat a president. But the Bradley candidacy is still alive -- it's been hurt and it comes out of this weakened, but I think he can go on.

Andrew Sullivan, columnist for the New York Times Magazine and author of "Love Undetectable": My immediate feeling is exhilaration because I've been feeling so resigned to a Gore-Bush ticket. And in all likelihood it's still going to be Gore-Bush. This is about "How do we purge ourselves of the past four years?" It's clear that McCain would be much more formidable against either Gore or Bradley in a general election because he could bring the independents that made up the crucial block of voters that supported Perot and Reagan. Bush won't do that. He's just not a great candidate. And once voters get a chance to see him up close, they'll realize there's less than meets the eye. The only hope now is that enough Republicans realize it is in their own self-interest in supporting McCain. I also think this showed that the religious right doesn't have the control it had. If they still controlled the party, McCain would never have gotten away with this.

Bradley is clearly going to be here until April. If Bradley takes from this that the four days of hammering he gave Gore gave him this much traction, maybe he'll get out and start campaigning. I don't think this is a good result for Gore.

David Horowitz, Salon columnist and author of "Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes": I'm sitting here watching my guy [Bush] get his ass kicked. Everyone
thought it would be closer. It shows that John McCain has really connected
with voters in ways that Bush has failed to do. He doesn't come across as warm and accessible and appealing on TV as he does in the flesh. The debates hurt him. He seemed stiff and almost withdrawn.
But politics is about what's there and not about what might have been.

John McCain is a very appealing figure. Whenever I find myself on the opposite side of a political issue from him, I find myself wishing he were right. Democrats have to worry: John McCain would be a very difficult Republican candidate to beat. The main problem McCain has with the Republican Party is that his campaign-finance reform proposal would sink it. That's because Democrats have the press in their pocket, so buying campaign advertising is critical to Republicans being able to be competitive. Of course, the Democrats have the unions, too, which is another big advantage of theirs. But McCain is backing off his campaign-finance thing already, so Republicans won't have a serious problem with him.

The other big surprise tonight looks to be the late surge by Bradley after he went "negative" on Gore. This portends ominous things for the election year ahead. Negative campaigning -- there's going to be a lot more of it.

Joe Conason, Salon columnist and author of "The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton": What a blowout ... and a worse result still for the GOP bosses when you factor in the state Republican Party backing of George W. and the vast financial advantage he enjoyed over John McCain in New Hampshire. They've learned that they can package Bush brilliantly and put him on TV, but they may not be able to sell him. As one of my friends put it the other day: "The dogs won't eat the dog food."

Bush has taken a hard shot and now he faces a difficult problem. Going into South Carolina, he will move right to flank McCain, labeling the Arizonan a "liberal." That may win the primary, but going hard right will cut against Bush's "compassionate conservative" strategy for the general election. This problem has emerged already in New Hampshire, where Bush overwhelmingly lost among independent (and more moderate) voters. But McCain also faces a quandary. If he doesn't emphasize his own conservative credentials in South Carolina, he will lose badly to Bush and his campaign may be over. If he does, however, he may risk losing the support of the starry-eyed journalists who have made him a cult figure.

Rich Galen, author and publisher of Mullings.com: There is no question that the size of the McCain win was a shock. But the other winner is Bill Bradley. We've finally stopped announcing his imminent death. He's now
got a little itty-bitty campaign going. Gore, a week ago, his handlers
were carrying him around on their shoulders and announcing that he was the

In effect, he lost 25 points in a week because he was winning by
30 points a week ago and he barely beat Bradley by five points tonight. What that indicates is that Gore, with a very gentle pushing back by Bradley, collapsed like a cheap umbrella. And the problems [Gore] has got here are that he doesn't have much money, and because of the nature of the Democratic selection process, the proportional distribution of delegates,
Bradley can claim that he's back in the race. But the only way Bradley can win the nomination is if he starts racking up so many victories in the primaries that Gore has to get out of the race.

I believe the McCain campaign when they say that the 20-point deficit they
faced in South Carolina last week will be reduced by half by Thursday. The
problem that the McCain campaign has is they don't have any money, and they
will be week-to-week from now until the [South Carolina primary] on Feb.
19. But in McCain's defense, if he didn't win tonight, everybody agreed
that he was done. So he's clearly not done.

When you look at what's happened to the Christian Coalition over the last four and a half years ... Let me put it this way: There is a difference between a
political party and a political movement. The Christian right has confused
those two things. The difference is that a political party is in business to
win elections. A political movement is willing to lose an election on
principle. And I think for a while, the Republican Party forgot that they
were a party, not a movement. I think the Republicans are more interested
in winning elections than hewing to an ideological line.

By Kerry Lauerman

MORE FROM Kerry Lauerman

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Ann Coulter Democratic Party Joe Conason Republican Party