RAYMOND, NEW HAMPSHIRE—“It’s horrible! It’s terrible!” shrieked the two men as they staggered through the crowded Tuckaway Tavern, waving a cross and a mirror. “He’s too close to power! It’s a curse from the devil!”
They were talking about Ted Cruz’s face. It’s true that he has a face that seems to be whining even when he’s silent and smiling. Cruz, in the back room of the crowded restaurant, muttered something like “I thought liberals didn’t believe in god?” as the two men performatively moaned and declared that they were there to perform an exorcism. We followed along with a knot of other reporters as they were ushered out into a back room. Fully in character, they made one final declaration about their intent to use the power of god to heal Cruz’s clearly cursed face, before pushing open the back exit and lurching out into the freshly fallen snow like a scene from The Revenant.
“They’re my students from Emerson,” my friend told several reporters as they filmed the protesters fading away. “I teach an improvisational acting class. This is part of one of our ‘public acting’ exercises.”
“Really?” The cameramen turned to him, and others reached for their notebooks. “Have they done this before? Can you tell us their names?” It’s enough to make you question the accuracy of the liberal media.
New Hampshire today is covered in ice. All day yesterday wet snow fell, turning the landscape into a frozen pillow and turning all the roads into hellish, icy bobsled tracks. We fishtailed twice leaving Cruz’s event, and rolled halfway through a red light when the rental car could find no purchase on the frosted roadway. As afternoon turned to evening, the storm worsened. The only people foolish enough to be out on the roads were reporters, and politicians, and the dead-enders who were already staunch enough fans of a politician to brave the snow in order to cheer them on. I can’t imagine many “undecided voters” left their homes to attend a political rally yesterday, which substantially raises my opinion of their intelligence.
Around dinnertime we made it to a Bernie Sanders rally held in the auditorium of a tony prep school in Derry. Everyone in attendance seemed to be either a high school student, a parent of a high school student, or press. It seems doubtful that this particularly rally moved many votes. Nevertheless, Bernie, hoarse and coughing after weeks of speechmaking hell, dove into his stump speech on income inequality and Wall Street villainy. He’d been going a half hour by the time a girl standing on the bleachers behind him swooned, passed out, and narrowly missed splitting her head open on his podium, and—after it was clear the girl was okay—he went on for another 40 minutes after that. Bernie’s views coincide so closely with my own that it is hard to maintain my journalistic impartiality, but I did recognize an important flaw in his plans when he remarked of his campaign, “We are treating the American people as if they were intelligent human beings.” A risky strategy. Polls here have Bernie solidly ahead, but it could end up being closer than we thought.
One of the guys I was riding around with has developed an odd fixation with Jeb Bush, not for his policies but for his palpable sense of try-hardness, which comes off as oddly endearing in this setting of empty suits and outright lunatics. “We have to go see Jeb,” he’d been saying for days. “It’s Jeb-ruary. He’s got good Jeb-mentum.” So last night, like idiots, we drove for two solid hours in truly dangerous conditions on a dark and icy road in order to reach Jeb’s town hall rally in Portsmouth just as it was ending. We missed all of Jeb’s speech. But we did get there in time for the Jeb selfie-taking period, so my friend’s dream was realized. Jeb is big and lumbering, with the size of a retired football player gone soft but the demeanor of a teacher who can never quite get control of his own classroom. He chatted awkwardly with everyone, like when you meet a somewhat nerdy friend of your parents’ and struggle to find something to say. His vulnerability, and thus his humanity, stands out in this field of Republicans, which I want to emphasize is a statement on the Republican candidates rather than on Jeb Bush’s suitability to be president. The latest polls show that with a little luck he could eke out a second-place finish here, driven purely by the fact that every other choice has more pronounced sociopathic tendencies.
After the event, the room was littered with glossy Jeb! magazines and pamphlets and signage, proof of the fact that his campaign has so much money it doesn’t know what to spend it on. “Take whatever you want,” said a staffer, gesturing to the most unappetizing set of swag I’ve ever seen. On the table next to her sat the book she was reading: Things Fall Apart.
It’s a frozen primary day in New Hampshire. Don’t be surprised if the smartest voters just decide to to stay home.