Steven: I hope you’re being kept away from sharp objects, Lance, because as far as I can tell the New Hampshire primary was an unmitigated disaster for Republicans.
Donald Trump wins by a landslide. John Kasich could put the Energizer bunny to sleep. And Marco Rubio, your party’s last best chance at electability, fell on his face. And Marco Rubio fell on his face.
Lance: It might seem that way, until you look at the Democrats.
Hillary Clinton has arguably the best resume of any candidate on either side, but she just got trounced by a self-proclaimed socialist who wasn’t even a member of the Democratic Party until he jumped into this race.
After essentially tying her in Iowa, which was a huge accomplishment, Sanders is actually winning the race right now. Democrats seem ready to throw your best candidate overboard and offer up America’s weirdest senator as a replacement.
Steven: Reports of Hillary Clinton’s demise are greatly exaggerated. People tend to like her more after she’s been taken down a peg, and the demographics of the upcoming states are much more favorable for her.
She definitely can’t afford any more unforced errors, but her path to the nomination is still pretty clear. Who in your party can challenge Trump? Not Jeb. Marco Roboto? John Kasich? Please.
Lance: Trump has a long way to go to get the nomination. And if he hadn’t turned the primary process on its head, the GOP field would look pretty good.
We’ve got a number of smart, experienced chief executives who span the ideological spectrum of our big-tent party. That’s a far sight better than a cranky old guy who’s been a sideshow in Congress for decades.
Steven: Be careful what you wish for. Bernie Sanders is inspiring energy — especially among young voters — like we haven’t seen since Obama 2008.
Lance: Very true. Both oddball winners in New Hampshire are breaking new ground.
But here’s the difference: Bernie hasn’t been vetted yet. Team Hillary and David Brock, who runs her Super PAC, are about to do a job on him that will make the “socialist” knock seem like a term of endearment.
Trump has been fully vetted. His horror-show background has been exposed for years, and no one cares. That means the standard general election takedowns won’t put a scratch on him. Democrats will be forced to actually come up with a message to defeat him, instead of relying on the personality cult strategy that won you the White House in 2008 and 2012.
Steven: You’re right that we have no idea how Bernie will hold up under a sustained assault from the GOP attack machine. And for the life of me I can’t understand why Bernie didn’t drop the “socialist” label years ago.
My advice to him would be a riff on a line from Ted Cruz’s favorite movie, “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word, socialist. No one else thinks it means what you think it means.”
Lance: One thing’s for sure, the New Hampshire primary didn’t create the “establishment front-runner” Republicans were hoping for. I think there will be a little bit of winnowing. Chris Christie is already out. But it won’t be enough for the party to coalesce around one non-Trump alternative.
If Kasich can pull in some quick money he might get some traction. He’s a smart, press-savvy governor with a great record and a Reagan Revolution pedigree. But he’s not a rock star, and his emergence in New Hampshire may have had more to do with exasperation with the flaws of the other Trump alternatives than earnest excitement about him.
Steven: Kasich took ObamaCare money for Medicaid expansion. He’s roadkill in a GOP primary.
Marco Rubio is the guy who really scares me, but Jeb’s Super PAC is destroying him with negative ads. And Chris Christie may have fired the kill shot in Saturday night’s debate, which would be the only really significant contribution Christie made to the entire race. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
Lance: Frankly, if your party continues its war on women and nominates Bernie, I think Kasich, Jeb, Rubio or Trump will have an easy walk to the White House. So keep up the good work!
Steven Biel is former campaign director for MoveOn.org and president of the Portland-based political consulting firm Steven Biel Strategies. Lance Dutson, a principal of Red Hill Strategies, is a Republican communications consultant. He has served on the campaign teams of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, as well as the Maine Republican Party.