Democracy at Its Best

New Hampshire makes presidents. The way it’s done was in full view last weekend, when 16 Republican hopefuls pressed into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua for two days of Q and A and coffee huddles with local voters. It was democracy at its best.

Betsy_McCaughey

Since 1952, winning the presidency almost always has started with a win in the New Hampshire primary, the first in the nation by law. In the months ahead, thousands of New Hampshire voters will flock to bars, diners, neighbors’ homes and packed gatherings like the Nashua event to size up candidates. They will know more about the candidates than anyone else in America. Last weekend they heard that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker buys his shirts at Kohl’s and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina started out as an office temp and lost a daughter to addiction.

Here’s what came out of it:

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First, there will be no Jeb Bush coronation. Though the former Florida governor (son of one president, brother of another) is leading in the polls, it’s not by much. “No one’s going to give it to me,” Bush said. There was less enthusiasm for Bush than his closest rival in the polls, Walker.

Walker has momentum. Since 2010, he has waged three victorious battles for his state’s governorship, including defeating a recall effort mounted by public employee unions, which bussed in 100,000 agitators to disrupt the state Capitol.

Walker told the New Hampshire crowd that when Wisconsin voters elected him and put a Republican majority in the legislature, he had to “go big and go bold,” not “just nibble around the edges.” Walker ended tenure and seniority so that teachers would be hired on merit and paid on performance. Reading scores and graduation rates shot up. He also turned a multibillion-dollar state deficit into a surplus without raising taxes. As Walker recited these facts, the Nashua audience went wild.

The other applause getters were three first-term U.S. senators: Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida. All three are gaining in the polls and are way ahead of Republicans who have run for president before and are trying it again: Rick Perry from Texas and Mike Huckabee from Arkansas. Youth seems to be an advantage.

Perry cautioned that “we’ve spent eight years with a young, inexperienced United States senator,” meaning Barack Obama. But Cruz is no novice. He served as solicitor general of Texas and argued nine cases before the United States Supreme Court.

The Nashua crowd cheered Cruz’s promise to repeal “every last page of Obamacare” and end Common Core. The audience erupted again when he attacked confirming New Yorker Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general. Weeks earlier, Lynch had testified that she supports whatever Obama does on immigration by executive order. Cruz says he can’t stand by while Congress’ lawmaking power is usurped. Bush took the opposite stand, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says she’ll be approved soon.

Rubio flaunted his youth (age 43), as he always does, telling crowds they don’t want to go back to “yesterday.” But the room fell quiet when he suggested that a pre-emptive strike against Iran now might be better than allowing Iran to get the bomb.

The presidential hopefuls also include two non-politicians: Fiorina and dealmaker Donald Trump. Fiorina isn’t showing in the polls yet, but the Nashua crowd cheered her for making it to the top on her own — not on her husband’s coattails like Hillary Clinton. Political strategists are talking about her for the vice presidential nominee.

Trump is largely dismissed as a celebrity bomb thrower, but Iowa insiders who came to Nashua say he’s “in it to win it.” He’s hired the team that won the Iowa caucus in 2012 for Rick Santorum, beating out Mitt Romney. Trump cracked, “Politicians are never going to solve all the problems we have.” We’re getting our clocks cleaned by China, Japan and Mexico because U.S. negotiators don’t know how to make a good deal.

The tycoon has one constituency nailed down. The hotel waitresses lined up to get pictures with him, while ignoring the other contenders.

Betsy McCaughey is a former Lt. Governor of New York State and the chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths.

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