Bernie Sanders’ resounding New Hampshire win was reminiscent of New Hampshire Primary night 2000 when John McCain crushed George W. Bush by a similar margin to Sanders 22-point win over Clinton.
McCain’s stunning margin of victory shook the GOP establishment. For those newer to the political rodeo, the John McCain of 2000 (pre-Iraq War) was not the same man that ran as the GOP nominee in 2008. At the time McCain was seen as a reformer who often crossed the aisle and aggressively pushed ideas like Campaign Finance Reform, Immigration reform and bucked the party on many other issues as well. During this period the American Conservative Union generally rated McCain somewhere between a 65% and 77% conservative. For a basis of comparison Marco Rubio’s lifetime rating from the ACU is 98%.
Much like Senator Sanders the margin of McCain’s New Hampshire victory could be attributed to self-identified independents, many of whom were former Republicans or still members of the GOP but disaffected with the rightward drift of the party. In Sanders case, his victory was largely down to former Democrats who have become NPA’s and self-described Independents who are still registered as Democrats but don’t identify openly with the party because of its perceived corporate drift.
Following McCain stunner in New Hampshire firewall was built by establishment Republicans in South Carolina. McCain, a former POW was accused of everything under the sun in the heavily-religious and military-oriented GOP Primary, and Bush prevailed. McCain would have other victories but as the map to the right shows. they were largely in the liberal Northeast where the last vestiges of the old Rockefeller/Javits/Ed Brooke wing of the GOP provided the moderate McCain with victories, some decisive over Bush.
South Carolina is where everything including South Carolina the “kitchen sink” was thrown at McCain to torpedo him. It worked, though McCain retained a great deal of support nationally until it became obvious he could not win in the south. In fact, outside of McCain’s home state of Arizona, and Michigan where independents were allowed to vote and did in mass for McCain, he did not win a single state outside New England.
Thus the last vestiges of liberal Republicanism were extinguished. Before long those GOPers that supported McCain and the officials they elected in the Northeast moved in mass to the Independent or Democratic column – this also of course included three US Senators in 2000. James Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee and Arlen Specter would eventually caucus with the Democrats or switch parties outright in during the next decade. McCain would drift rightward, his moderate brand of Republicanism having been crushed by the party elites. To be nominated in the future he’d have to become a hard-liner again which he did on immigration and defense policy.
Some similarities might play out in 2016 on the Democratic side. Both Bush and Clinton have a great deal in common . They are from “first families of the respective parties,” and have the party machinery quite clearly behind them. Clinton like Bush has a southern firewalls and an insurgency that is fueled largely on people that either are not registered as Democrats or don’t self-identify as Democrats. Senator Sanders is after all not a registered Democrat, though the political culture of Vermont is peculiar and it often does eschew the traditional two-party system.
A concern must arise that much like McCain’s loss, Sanders imminent defeat might sour some progressives and liberals on the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future. That’s why the Democrats ought to treat the coming crushing of the insurgency Bush v McCain style with kid gloves. Otherwise the ramifications long-term could be enormous.