Today at CNN, morning host John Berman offered a really interesting take on the New Hampshire primary. Here is part of the transcript from his exchange with Pete Seat, vice president of the Bose Public Affairs Group:
BERMAN: And then, Pete, there’s the question of how we should all be looking at Donald Trump. Are we looking at him as, you know, the presumptive nominee who’s really strong in the race or is he like a quasi-incumbent?
I mean, the guy was president just a few years ago with his grip on the party, and up on the screen here, you can see his results last night. Yes, he got over 50 percent, which is great. Compared to George H.W. Bush in 1992, when Pat Buchanan and got 38 points off of him, and that was considered a giant failure. And George H.W. Bush was seen as a wounded incumbent. Those numbers are awfully similar. Now, how do you look at that?
SEAT: They are awfully similar. I’ve been looking at him as an incumbent running in this campaign.
If we think of Donald Trump as the incumbent in this race (because he was the former president and claims to have control of the party) then perhaps we should look at the New Hampshire results differently. Nikki Haley won 43.3% of the vote. She did much better than Buchanan in 1992.
On the day after the 1992 New Hampshire primary, the headline of The New York Times read: “Bush Jarred in First Primary.” Here is a taste of reporter Robin Toner’s article:
Mr. Bush, in a statement tonight, said his opponents in both parties had “reaped the harvest of discontent with the pace of New Hampshire’s economy” and added, “I understand the message of dissatisfaction.”
The signal to Mr. Bush was unmistakable. Even though Mr. Buchanan’s support represented more than 63,000 actual votes, it amounted to a roar of anger from those who voted in the Republican primary, and it showed the power of a “send a message” campaign against him in times of economic distress.
Mr. Bush now faces a galvanized Buchanan campaign in one state after another, with the battle to be joined on March 3, when the Buchanan forces hope to make another stand in Georgia. Down the road, Mr. Bush will confront a Democratic Party that has now been given a road map of his vulnerabilities.
Here are some other front-page headlines from February 19, 1992, the day after the 1992 New Hampshire primary:
The Palm Beach Post: “Humbling Win: Bush beats Buchanan”
Orlando Sentinel: “Scary Win for Bush”
Philadelphia Inquirer: “A Scare for Bush”
Newsday: “How Bush Got Bloodied”
San Francisco Examiner: “‘Wake-up Call in New Hampshire stings president”
Chicago Tribune: “New Hampshire stuns Bush”
Philadelphia Daily News: “BUSH GOES SOUTH: Campaigns in Dixie after Buchanan ‘Whack’ in New Hampshire.”
Akron Beacon Journal: “N.H. gives Bush a pounding”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Exit polls show Bush winning but embarrassed by results”
Arizona Republic: Buchanan sends Bush a message”
Santa Fe New Mexican: “Buchanan bruises Bush”
Calgary Herald: “Bush gets bad scare in first vote”
Austin American Statesman: “Buchanan deals Bush New Hampshire shock”
Los Angeles Times: “Tight Vote a Blow to President”
The Boston Globe: “Bush struggles past Buchanan”
History can’t predict the future and historical context is always important, but Berman’s point is worth thinking about.