There’s a reason Ted Cruz didn’t spend a lot of money in New Hampshire. It wasn’t because he had given up on him having an impact there even though most in the media had. It wasn’t because he didn’t think that the vote was an important one. It was because he’s smart enough to hold back when others are going all in. In essence, Ted Cruz let them burn through their cash while he looked at the long game.
To place an unexpected third in New Hampshire, Ted Cruz and his super PACs combined to spend $580,000. This is less than Rand Paul or Lindsey Graham spent before dropping out. It’s less than Carly Fiorina spent on a state where she expected to get less than 5% of the vote. It’s even less than Donald Trump spent… much less. His $3.7 million on top of constant free media coverage meant that Trump was in every household multiple times in the week leading up to the primary.
John Kasich, the other candidate who beat Cruz by placing second, did so by spending over 20x as much. It was a strong night for Kasich who wasn’t a blip on the radar in Iowa, but it also cost him the rest of the campaign barring a miracle; it took $12.1 million to get him second in New Hampshire, leaving him with less than $3 million cash on hand. Unless he can turn this second place finish into an unprecedented fundraising run, his campaign won’t have enough cash to survive into March. Pundits will paint his finish as a strong play for him, but he really needed to finish 1st to justify using nearly 80% of his campaign funds to earn three delegates.
Meanwhile, Cruz has the most cash on hand and the second most super PAC money. As the other candidates proved in New Hampshire, cash isn’t everything. Jeb Bush, who finished fourth, spent $36.1 million. Marco Rubio outspent Cruz nearly 30:1 in New Hampshire to finish fifth. Chris Christie, who will likely drop out, spent even more than Rubio to finish sixth.
All of this points to two possibilities for the race ahead. Trump and Cruz are leading and have a victory notched on their belt, but perhaps more importantly the primaries and caucuses in the next month favor them to remain on top. This means that the Establishment can embrace Cruz as the only candidate that can defeat Trump or they can try to sort through their mess and unite behind one of the Establishment candidates. Rubio was supposed to be that unifying force, but his failure at the New Hampshire debate and the subsequent primary make him harder for them to back. Bush still has money but doesn’t seem to be able to muster any real momentum. Kasich is nearly broke. Christie is going to drop out.
The Establishment has no valid choice.
They could get behind Trump as they started to do before Iowa, but that was a play to clear out Cruz and make room for one of their candidates. Since it didn’t work in Iowa and following their abysmal night in New Hampshire, their choices are limited. As I wrote on a sister site, their only viable option is to reluctantly get behind Cruz rather than suffering the existential threat of a Trump nomination.
Things haven’t looked this bleak for the Republican Establishment since the New Hampshire primary of 1980. Of course, their loss was America’s gain since it gave us President Ronald Reagan. Perhaps we’ll see the same type of principled conservative win the White House once again 36 years later.