MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — It was like an Oscar speech.
First he thanked his parents, who he said he knew were looking down on him, “saying, ‘This is something very special,’” and then he thanked his remaining family members, many of whom were surrounding him onstage. Next he thanked his people, the ones who work for him, answering the phones on his behalf and doing his bidding every day. And then he thanked the other candidates, “some very talented people,” all of whom he beat. “Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. What do we really want to thank?” he said, and then, finally, he thanked the little people: “We want to thank the people of New Hampshire!”
Judging by the look on Donald Trump’s face, which was a tasteful and fabulous shade of red on Tuesday night, he could hardly believe what he had pulled off here. After 16 years of pretending he might run for president and nearly eight months of actually campaigning for the Republican nomination, he had won his first contest—in the type of blowout that he had always promised he was capable of. It wasn’t even close. John Kasich, who came in second place in the Republican primary, trailed Trump by 19 points, 35 to 16.
“You know, I said it!” Trump said, “and I said it even a year ago! I said, I think I’m gonna do really well here, because I’m here a lot, and it’s so beautiful, and I love it so much, and I love the people and, I said, I actually think they like me a lot!”
The crowd screamed, “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and he just stared out, a serene smile on his face.
A few miles away, at the Manchester Radisson, things were more subdued. Rubio devotees conversed in hushed voices in a bright, gilded ballroom designed for more elegant occasions than a mediocre primary night finish. There was little to celebrate, but not enough reason to drown sorrows either—the makeshift bar set up outside the watch party never had a line of any substantial length.
A sense of quiet fell across the crowd as the first results came in: Fox News showed a screen of the top four Republicans leading the field in New Hampshire. Rubio, who just a few days ago was polling in second place, was nowhere to be found.
“I’m disappointed—he was supposed to be the favorite!” said Lisa Thorn, of Manchester.
The crowd was joyless, the conversation light, and the country muzak turned down to a dim volume.
In the three days before Tuesday night, Rubio pushed back on the notion that he had made a mistake on the debate stage, when he repeated a talking point about Barack Obama over and over again, sounding like what his critics called, “Marcobot.”
His advisers spun that he had performed remarkably well. He had stayed on message, like all good candidates should. And Rubio defended his performance, too, arguing that he’d only stressed the point about Obama so many times because he really believed it that much.
But in the end it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done here.
Even Rubio’s staff at the Radisson sounded like they were working with talking points. “It’s a new American century,” an aide said to a voter, “we’re going to look forwards, not backwards.”
Over in Trumptown, things were considerably more exciting—even if the digs were shabbier.
The room at the Executive Court Banquet Facility was filled to capacity—1,200 people, a police officer said. It wasn’t a marvelous or classy space, but nobody seemed to mind. The speakers blared “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John and one couple embraced and kissed in the middle of the floor.
The crowd was mostly white and predominantly male. They wore Make America Great Again! hats and pinstripe suits, as well as denim jackets and fingerless leather gloves. Draped over their shoulders were knit “TRUMP” scarves. They drank beer and vodka cranberries. Before Trump arrived onstage, to The Beatles’ “Revolution,” they passed the time by eating free cheese and crackers and puff pastry hors d’oeuvres.
It felt like a budget wedding, or a fancy frat party. And the mood was nothing short of completely ecstatic.
This was Trump’s party, but it was his voters’ just as much. It was a celebration of their decision to support someone who the establishment and the elites said could never do anything like this. As the votes came in—projected on seven TV screens lining the room—they became validated. Trump’s success was real and, by extension, so was their own.
“He’s the best thing that happened to the United States since Bush—the old Bush, not the young Bush,” Bobby, an older man who held a whisky in his hand, said. “Reagan was my man and Trump is just like Reagan, baby.”
He pointed to a button on his jacket that read, “Bomb the shit out of ISIS,”—a popular Trump quote. “Listen,” he said, “you see these pieces of shit right here? Those pieces of shit, ISIS? They only wanna harm women and children,” he said. “Any man who wants to harm women and children and won’t show his face, guess what? He’s a man with no balls.”
He opened his jacket to reveal a white T-shirt. “You see these colors? Red, white and blue—they don’t run, baby! Red, white and blue never run!”
Trump’s victory speech was similar to Bobby’s, but it was uncharacteristically short. After thanking everyone he’s ever met, he briefly ran down a list of issues he’s talked about for the last eight months: Winning more, generally; defeating ISIS; building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border; protecting veterans; getting rid of Obamacare and Common Core; preserving the Second Amendment, and being “the greatest jobs president” in the history of the country.
And then he just sort of marveled at what had happened at the polls and what he had done so right.
“I think,” he said, “one of the things that really caught on was self-funding my campaign!”
A protester shouted at him, “You’re classless!” and his supporters quickly turned his way and returned fire, drowning him out with chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
Trump got him kicked out and, unfazed, continued on with his speech.
“We love you,” he said to the audience. “We’re not gonna forget you!”
Meanwhile, Rubio was delivering a mea culpa.
“Our disappointment tonight is not on you, it’s on me,” he said as one of his supporters cried out, “No!”
“I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this: that will never happen again,” Rubio said.
“Tonight, we did not wind up where we wanted to be. But that does not change where we’re going to wind up at the end of this process.”
The room was far from full. There was plenty of space to stretch your legs out and take a walk—and if you had, you would have certainly noticed Michael Skocay, a Rubio supporter who had traveled from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to attend the watch party.
Skocay was wearing a “Team Marco Rubio 2016” T-shirt—just one of four Rubio-themed shirts he owns—and had painted the American flag on his face.
“Certainly it’s disappointing—coming out of Iowa, it looked like things were going pretty well. Maybe the last New Hampshire debate performance had more of an impact than the campaign would have hoped,” Skocay said
As for the face paint?
“Obviously I was hoping that would go with a good return with the vote tonight. Now it seems a little out of place,” he said.