Tonight we will see if Donald Trump can win the New Hampshire primary by being totally himself. It's true that he seems to always just say whatever comes into his head, but the Iowa campaign actually marked a show of restraint for the blustery billionaire. He didn't swear on the stage. He talked a lot about the Bible. He carted his family all over the state and especially showed off his 8 months pregnant daughter Ivanka as a show of family values. He did his best to prove that he could represent true-blue ultra-conservative family values Republicans.
Alas, no one can out-conservative Ted Cruz, so Trump came up a little bit short. But Iowa was never a slam dunk for him in the first place. Trump was telling the truth when he said that he had been told he couldn't win and hadn't put a lot of effort into it. When the polls showed him neck and neck with Cruz he spent more time there, but he knew it wasn't really his kind of state.
New Hampshire, by contrast, is a place where he can really let it all hang out. After all, 20 years ago Pat Buchanan made a run at it there with almost exactly the same message as Trump's. Take a look at this New York Times article from February of 1996:
Mr. Buchanan revels in controversy. But as he assails illegal immigration as an "invasion" and refers to Mexicans en masse as "Jose," his critics are accusing him of taking controversy a step too far. They say Mr. Buchanan is speaking in code, using xenophobic images like those or anti-Semitic references to excite bigots without alienating mainstream voters...
Trying to shout down a heckler in Gila Bend on Friday, for example, Mr. Buchanan said of illegal immigrants: "They've got no right just because you have a lousy government down there to walk across the borders of the United States of America, because this is my country."
But Marciano Murillo, 18, a native-born American whose father was a naturalized illegal immigrant, replied: "They help your economy as well as any American here helps it."
Mr. Buchanan shot back:"They've got no right to break our laws and break into our country and go on welfare, and some of them commit crimes."
"There isn't any name in American politics Pat Buchanan hasn't been called," he told the crowd. "Not one. But let me tell you something. I'm not intimidated. I won't back down. I'll stand my ground, you've got my word. No matter what they say about me, I will defend the borders of the United States. I will stop this massive illegal immigration cold. Period, paragraph."
In an interview on Friday night, Mr. Buchanan rejected the idea that he rhetorically winks and nods to bigots. "It's silly," he said. "There are people out there with anxieties and concerns about their future and their children's future. What I'm saying is, 'Don't turn your back on politics. Don't despair.' I'm offering them something besides the back of my hand."
He also made anti-Semitic comments and his version of the tough guy mantra "Make America Great Again" was a promise to the far right:
"When I raise my hand to take that oath of office your New World Order comes crashing down."
(The New World Order is a doozy of a right wing conspiracy theory that's still around today. It's been more or less supplanted by terrorist fear-mongering in the popular imagination but the Bundy militia types are still at it.)
Buchanan ran in 1992 and didn't make much of a splash. But he gave a notorious speech at the convention, about which the late great Molly Ivins famously quipped: "It sounded better in the original German." Then in 1996, Buchanan gave the presumptive nominee Bob Dole a run for his money by winning a straw poll in Alaska, the Louisiana caucus, and then taking a surprise win in New Hampshire. His message was resonating with a certain group of Republicans. He won with 27 percent, just about the percentage most polls are predicting Trump is likely to have.
Buchanan and Trump are not the same. Buchanan was a man of the right and a political professional. But you can tell from those quotes that his pitch was very much the same as Trump's. He didn't even try to hide his xenophobia, he didn't dog-whistle it all. (He was a little more subtle with this anti-semitism although it was obvious.) The main thing was that he was tough, he took no guff and most importantly, he was going to do something about foreigners who were destroying the American way of life.
Trump is today's glossier version of the same phenomenon. He's a celebrity "outsider," which is in vogue this year. (In that way he has more in common with the other wealthy populist of the 1990s, Ross Perot.) He's crude and non-ideological, Pat Buchanan's id without the intellect. But the basic appeal is much the same: macho, nativist nationalism for white people worried about having to share their country with people who don't look like them. And as of this morning he's still leading everyone in the polls.
Trump has been looser in New Hampshire, more himself after the strained effort to appear pious in Iowa. The granite state appreciates a little down and dirty and they like a man who speaks his mind. He's back to swaggering around and bragging about how he'll make American great again by banning, torturing and deporting people.
He'd broken the profanity barrier already when he said "I'd bomb the shit out of ISIS" last year, but this past week he repeated it and then promised to "kick [China and Mexico's] asses" on trade and tell companies that left New Hampshire for Mexico that they can "go fuck themselves" (only mouthing the F word rather than saying it out loud. This is unusual, to say the least. But last night he thrilled the audience with this:
You heard the other night at the debate, they asked Ted Cruz, serious question, what do you think of waterboarding? Is it ok? And honestly I thought he'd say, "absolutely" and he didn't. he said well, it's .. you know he's concerned about the answer because some people...
[shout from the audience. Trump points to her]
She just said a terrible thing. You know what she said? Shout it out because I don't want to say it.
[shout from the audience --- Trump laughs]
You 're not allowed to say and I never expect to hear that from you again.
She said, "He's a pussy."
Twitter went crazy and the networks went with it as breaking news. Everyone was shocked that Trump had used the "p" word in public. Sadly, nobody was shocked that he was criticizing his rival for failing to be properly enthusiastic about committing war crimes -- or that the audience cheered. Afterwards a reporter tracked down the woman who shouted the epithet:
She declined to tell us her name or be photographed, but agreed to answer a few questions. The 52-year-old woman from Salem, New Hampshire, said the Trump event was her first political rally of the cycle, but described herself a "huge Trump supporter."
"I watched the debate, and [Ted Cruz] just comes across as a pussy," she told Mic on the floor of the Verizon Center. "He doesn't have the balls to stand up to Putin. He doesn't have the balls to stand up to other leaders of others countries."
When asked whether she trusts Trump, she answered, "He's got the balls the size of watermelons, whereas the other ones got the balls of little grapes." She then specified the size of other candidates' testicles. "The other one, Rubio, [has balls] like a raisin." When asked about the other candidates, she answered, "They're nobodies."
New Hampshire is a funny state and you never know if the polling is correct, so tonight's results could be a surprise. But unless he fails spectacularly, he'll be around a while, probably kicking his machismo up a notch for South Carolina. The hard right conservatives there will like the message about the foreigners and Making America Great again. They'll positively love his promise to torture people and bomb the shit out of ISIS. The only question will be if he takes his swearing to the next level and starts using racial epithets. It's doubtful anyone would be shocked. Nothing has shocked them yet.
In 1996, the establishment candidate Bob Dole stopped Pat Buchanan, who by March was out of money and forced to suspend his campaign. There is no establishment candidate in 2016 and there is still no sense if or when one might emerge. We may have a better idea about that tomorrow morning. But Trump has the fortune and the ego to keep stoking this faction of the party all the way to the end if he wants to. And this time they might just win.