When Candidates Confirm Their Caricatures

As the exhausted contenders round the turn to New Hampshire, their stumbles on the trail are reinforcing the voters’ worst fears.

Donald Trump speaks at a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, rally on February 4. (Brian Snyder / Reuters)

New Hampshire brings out the worst in presidential candidates. Worn out by Iowa, White House wannabes arrive in New England tired and under pressure—and stuff happens that reinforces the negative stereotypes voters may have formed about them. The past week has seen many of the candidates stumble on the trail, just when they ought to have been hitting their stride.

Donald Trump Is a Crude Boob

True to form, Trump channeled the anger of voters buffeted by economic change, condemning companies that moved out of the country to dodge U.S. tax rates. “And you can tell them to go fuck themselves,” the Republican front-runner frothed in Portsmouth.

Ted Cruz Is Weaselly

In Saturday’s Republican debate, the Texas senator said his team should not have told Iowa conservatives that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race. His team had lied. “Ben, I’m sorry,” Cruz said. Then he lied. He blamed CNN for reporting Carson’s demise and failing to correct it, despite the fact that CNN reported no such thing.

Ben Carson Is Lost

An accomplished neurosurgeon from Detroit, Carson seems adrift in politics. He makes outlandish comments. He burns through money and staff. He leaves the campaign trail for a fresh set of clothes. In Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate, he bungled his entry cue and created an awkward traffic jam of candidates.

Marco Rubio Is a Robot

The Florida senator knew exactly what he was doing. The Florida senator knew exactly what he was doing. The Florida senator knew exactly what he was doing. A first-term member of Congress with virtually no executive experience, Rubio planned to unite the fractious GOP after a strong third-place finish in Iowa. Then this happened: “Rubio Chokes.”

Jeb Bush Is a Horrible Candidate

“Please clap,” the former Florida governor begged a New Hampshire crowd last Tuesday. If he was still the field’s front-runner, the moment would have been written off as a nerdy candidate’s nervous tic. How polite. How humble. But from the mouth of a struggling scion, “Please clap” is a sad epilogue.

Bernie Sanders Is a One-Note Socialist

For all his appeal as an economic populist, foreign policy remains a foreign language to the Vermont senator. Asked in Thursday’s Democratic debate how long U.S. troops would remain in Afghanistan, Sanders’s answer started in Syria and Iraq, stumbled into Jordan, wrestled with ISIS, and staggered through Britain, France, Germany, and Russia. “Let me just mention what King Abdullah of Jordan said,” Sanders barked, apropos of nothing, “I think he hit the nail on the head.”

Hillary Clinton Is Untrustworthy

“I am 100 percent confident,” Clinton said, the email scandal won’t blow up her candidacy. Then she thrice misled viewers. “I never sent or received any classified material,” she said. That’s not true. She accused past secretaries of state of “doing the same thing.” That’s also untrue. “They are retroactively classifying it,” she said, implying that none of her electronic communications were born classified and suggesting that she had no legal responsibility to know what information is protected, whether or not it’s marked classified. That’s not the truth, either.

Some of these caricatures are fair; some are not. But the candidates haven’t done themselves any favors by reinforcing them.

2016 Distilled