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New Hampshire’s Two Alternate Timelines

What if tonight's results don't actually matter?
February 11, 2020
New Hampshire’s Two Alternate Timelines

1. New Hampshire

In a weird way, tonight’s vote matters less than any New Hampshire primary I’ve covered.

I’m tempting fate to say that, but unless we get a real outlier result—Klobuchar wins! Biden falls below 10 percent! Warren finishes ahead of Bernie!—the actual dynamics of the race aren’t going to change, regardless of what happens.

And that’s because we don’t know which kind of race this is.

Historically, there are two different kinds of races. The first is a momentum race.

In a momentum race, one candidate becomes dominant early and crosses over a tipping point where the fact of their success creates more successes.

George W. Bush’s 2000 primary win was based on momentum. So was John Kerry’s 2004 win, John McCain’s 2008 win, and Mitt Romney’s 2012 win. In each of those races, the winning campaign was the one that built up enough inertia that one victory magnified into the next.

But it’s not always like that. The other type of primary race is the kind driven by demographics.

In a demographic campaign, it looks like there are wild momentum swings back-and-forth between the candidates. But in reality, what’s happening is that each of the candidate has a base that is solid and clearly-defined, so the outcome in any given state is almost predetermined by the demographic makeup of the electorate.

Examples: In Barack Obama’s 2008 primary race and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign, you could predict the result with a high-degree of accuracy just based on the demographics of the voters.

In 2008, Obama was never really able to eat into Clinton’s base after their coalitions gelled. And in 2016, Clinton was never able to win over Bernie’s coalition.

In a demographic race, the winning candidate is the one whose coalition is big enough to grind out a win over the long haul.

So which kind of race is 2020?

It’s too soon to tell. Because if this was a momentum race, then we’d be exactly where we are now. And if it was a demographic race, we’d be exactly where we are now.

We won’t know for sure until we get through Nevada and South Carolina.

Unless, that is, we’re in some new species of campaign that has its own weird underlying dynamics that nobody understands. Which, the way the world is, I wouldn’t bet against.

2. Trump-Tulsi 2020 Update

It’s happening . . .

On Saturday, Tulsi Gabbard defended Trump’s firing of Lt. Col. Alexandr Vindman.

On Fox.

This is the same woman who wraps herself in her service at every opportunity and justifies every suspect policy idea as simply her being in solidarity with the men and women in uniform.

Except when it comes to supporting Trump.

Look, I’m not saying that there’s a 100 percent chance that Tulsi is going to replace Mike Pence on the ticket. Maybe not even a 5 percent chance.

But if you think Trump isn’t picking up what she’s laying down, you’re crazy.

3. Spies FTW

Not a day goes by that I don’t miss the Cold War. Why? Because of stuff like this:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.

The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.