New Hampshire's status as the first primary state in the nation has had one clear policy consequence in 2016: It has turned a New England heroin epidemic into a national political conversation. And so, with five days to go until votes are cast, Ted Cruz took a break from his hectic town hall circuit to speak at a church here in Hooksett, New Hampshire, about his family's history of addiction.
As the headliner of the Addiction Policy Forum, hosted by a Baptist church and a half-dozen recovery organizations, Cruz told two personal stories he's offered before. The first was about his half sister, Miriam, who died of a drug overdose in 2011. Cruz recalled driving from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, where he and his father picked up Miriam from the crack house where she was living and, over the course of five hours at Denny's, tried desperately to help her piece her life back together. After his sister's death, Cruz took a $20,000 loan to pay for his nephew, Miriam's son, to go to boarding school. It's a difficult story, and he tells it well. Then he talked about his father, Rafael, who left Ted and his mother behind in Calgary when the future senator was three years old, only to find Christ in Texas and return to the family. When he was finished, the mostly partisan crowd offered a chorus of "amen!"; it's a story about his father's faith that in actuality is a story of his own.
And if that's how his speech had ended, it would have been in line with the way a number of candidates have talked about drug addiction in New Hampshire during the 2016 campaign—heartbreak at the human toll (New Hampshire averaged more than a death a day from overdoses in 2015), and a promise to act. But what Cruz really seemed to want to talk about was something else—the flood of "undocumented Democrats" coming across the border, and the urgent need for a magnificent wall to stop them. Take care of the illegal immigration, his argument goes, and you'll take care of your drug problem.
"I would invite you to do as I have, to meet with farmers and ranchers [in Texas] who will show you photographs of dead body after dead body after dead body, of women and children abandoned and left to die in the desert," he said. "Local farmers for whom it has become sadly a recurring experience to just encounter dead bodies of people being trafficked in, abused and abandoned by the coyotes and left to die. And it is the very same cartels that are trafficking in human beings, that are physically abusing these human beings, that are sexually abusing these human beings, that are selling God's creatures into sexual slavery. It is these very same cartels that are the drug cartels, that are bringing heroin."
He had a specific cartel in mind:
El Chapo. You know, Sean Penn seems to think he is a sexy and attractive character. I so appreciate Hollywood for glorifying vicious homicidal killers. What a cute and chic thing to celebrate. Someone who murders and destroys lives for a living. El Chapo's organization brings vast quantities of drugs into this country, vast quantities of heroin. Heroin confiscation at the border have increased from about 556 kilos in 2008 to 2,100 kilos in 2012. When the border's not secure, that’s what happens: You have drugs flooding into this country. And you have people in New Hampshire and elsewhere, they sometimes start with prescription painkillers, but those become harder and harder to get and they turn to heroin. if we want to turn around the drug crisis, we have got to finally and permanently secure the border. Now I tell you, we know how to do this. We're told by the media over and over again, this problem can't be solved. You can't secure the border. How many times have you heard a reporter say, 'If you build a 10-foot wall, they'll build an 11-foot ladder.' Reporters think they're very clever. Well, if you want to know how walls work, I invite you all to come to Israel.
From there, Cruz introduced the audience to another villain, what he often refers to on the stump as the "Washington cartel." "Solving the drug problem becomes de-emphasized because [Republicans'] policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration," Cruz said. "On the Democratic side, you know there's a new term for illegal immigrants. It's called 'undocumented Democrats.'" He wandered even further into his stump speech, connecting the dots from the heroin crisis to the lack of a decent fence on the border, to the stagnation of Americans' wages and the dissatisfaction of the American middle class with Washington politicians. If you showed up late, you might have been surprised to hear that the event was about drug abuse in New Hampshire.
Heroin has become a serious issue in the 2016 presidential race in part because talking about the epidemic is also a way to talk about something else—to show you're attentive to what's happening at the local level, to show you have empathy. For Cruz, riding high off the momentum of his big victory in Iowa, it's a way to show that he can be just as Donald Trump as Donald Trump—but with a conscience.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie likes to think of himself as a guy who tells voters what he believes, and as he makes a last-gasp attempt to climb out of sixth place in the New Hampshire Republican primary, what he's telling people is this: He really can't believe he's losing to these idiots.
Speaking at a retirement community in Bow, New Hampshire, on Wednesday afternoon, Christie used an anecdote about the late actor James Gandolfini to rip into front-runner Donald Trump as a highly skilled magician deceiving the electorate with smoke and mirrors.
As he told the seniors, when he was a US attorney from New Jersey, Christie had gone with his daughter to a Broadway performance of Beauty and the Beast. Gandolfini, whose daughter on the show, Jamie-Lynn Discala, played the role of Belle, saw Christie in the line for refreshments and tapped him on the shoulder. "He said, 'Um, I'm Jimmy Gandolfini,' Christie recalled. "I said, 'I know.' And he said to me—he's a big guy, he had a very strong firm handshake, as you might imagine, and he wasn't letting go of my hand, so he's shaking and he pulled me towards him—and he says, 'You know it's all make-believe, right?'"
Christie paused for a moment, and then got to his point. "You know it's all make-believe, right?," he said, getting into it. "The guy who's running first in the polls right now—you know it's all make believe. You know that there's not really a board room he and Ivanka sit in, right? You know that when he says you're fired you're not really fired, right? Because it's not real! It is an all an act! It is all for TV!"
Trump, who leads in the polls by double digits, has perhaps overshadowed the notoriously blustery Christie by being even more blustery. But Christie wasn't simply trying to take Trump down a few notches; he also wanted to bring down Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the first- and third-place finishers in Iowa who are both now lapping him in the state where he's invested most of his energy. In the second truck-driving metaphor of his speech, he took aim at the two freshmen senators who don't know how to drive in the mud:
New is great—it's shiny and pretty. It looks great. I understand that. New is really good. Even on a day like today, right, you went and passed the car dealer and saw a new pickup truck, and you said, "Look at that pickup truck! It looks good." So you go and you buy the new truck and you park that truck right in front of your house. Let's say this rain keeps going, I don’t know what the forecast is, but if it keeps raining for a while you know what happens, rain turns everything into mud. And let's say you go outside to get your new car after a day or so in the rain. You get in that new truck the first time and start it up. You put it in gear and it's in the mud and the wheels start spinning. And you're thinking, why can't I get out of the mud? I gotta get out of the mud. You keep doing it, you're going back and forth, the wheels are spinning, and you're starting to get frustrated, and what's the only thing that's running through your mind? Where the heck is my old truck! My old truck always got me out of the mud. I never got stuck in the mud with my old truck. My old truck's banged up a little bit. It's scratched up a little bit. It doesn't smell nearly as good as it used to. It doesn't look as good as it used to, but I can't go anywhere in this new truck because it can't get out of the mud.
There's two different kinds of trucks in this race, man. The Marco Rubio–Ted Cruz truck is the new, shiny, smells-nice truck. And then there's the Chris Christie truck. It’s old. It's beat up. It's dinged up. It doesn't smell as good as it used to. But man, the Chris Christie truck knows how to get out of the mud. You know why? Because it's been in the mud before.
Chris Christie is a smelly old truck, and he wants your vote, New Hampshire. Except, that is, when he's a helicopter.
A few days before the 1986 Vermont gubernatorial election, Bernie Sanders held a rally in downtown Burlington. Sanders, then the independent mayor of the state's largest city, was trailing badly in a three-way race with Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin, the state's first female chief executive, and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith, and he was running out of time.
So, as Kunin recounts in her 1994 memoir, Living a Political Life, Sanders leveled a tough attack against her. At that rally, Kunin wrote, Sanders declared that "he would be a better feminist than I." According to her account, Sanders shouted that Kunin had "done nothing for women." And, she recalled in her book, "When my husband, there as my surrogate (I was scheduled to speak elsewhere), rose to speak in my defense, he was booed by the crowd. Arthur's red-faced anger became the children's horror story of the campaign, which they embellished in the retelling—our private macabre joke." Kunin was already coming under attack from the right for her vocal support of the Equal Rights Amendment; now she was being hammered for not being feminist enough.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama visited a mosque for the first time as president, and offered perhaps the least controversial comment imaginable: "You're part of America too," he told his hosts. "You're not Muslim or American; you're Muslim and American."
Sen. Marco Rubio was not impressed, telling voters in New Hampshire:
I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done. Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today—he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam. And by the way, radical Islam poses a threat to Muslims themselves.
To be clear: America discriminates against Muslims.
In 2012, Wiredreported that "[t]he FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that 'main stream" [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a 'cult leader'; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a 'funding mechanism for combat." That investigative series on federal law enforcement's prejudices against Muslims won a National Magazine Award. In 2011, the Associated Press reported on how the NYPD, with the help of the CIA, spied on America mosques and even infiltrated Muslim student associations. That series won a Pulitzer. Last week, Buzzfeed reported on the intense pressure applied by the federal government on Muslim immigrants who apply for citizenship. My colleague Kristina Rizga has reported on the pervasiveness of anti-Muslim bullying in schools. One of the candidates who beat Rubio last week literally proposed banning Muslims from entering the country; the other limited his ban to people from predominantly Muslim countries.
This is all pretty easy to find online, but in Rubio's defense, the Internet is pretty spotty in New Hampshire.
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
Then you probably voted for Ted Cruz. Bloomberg's Sasha Issenberg has the most intriguing analysis of the Texas senator's victory in last night's Iowa caucuses, explaining how Chris Wilson, the Cruz campaign's pollster and director of analytics, carved up the state's eligible voters into 150 different categories with a borderline spooky precision. No issue was too small for the Cruz campaign—not even the legalization of fireworks sales, which are currently illegal in Iowa:
When there was no way that a segment could be rolled up into a larger universe, as was the case with the sixty Iowans who were expected to make a priority of fireworks reform, Cruz's volunteers would see the message reflected in the scripts they read from phone banks, adjusted to the expected profile of the listener. A Stoic Traditionalist would hear that "an arbitrary ban of this kind is infringing on liberty," as a messaging plan prepared by Cambridge Analytica put it, while Relaxed Leaders are "likely to enjoy parties and community celebrations, such as the 4th of July, and thus a fun-killing measure of this kind is unlikely to sit well with them."
But here's the best part:
Unlike most of his opponents, Cruz has put a voter-contact specialist in charge of his operation, and it shows in nearly every aspect of the campaign he has run thus far and intends to sustain through a long primary season. Cruz, it should be noted, had no public position on Iowa's fireworks law until his analysts identified sixty votes that could potentially be swayed because of it.
And it's true—fireworks reform might not be a big issue among Iowa voters, but it does look like a real pain to celebrate America's independence if you live in Des Moines, a healthy two-hour drive from the nearest place to purchase fireworks legally. If you didn't know what Iowa looked like, you could draw a near-perfect outline of the state just by connecting the dots of all the fireworks retailers on its borders seeking business from Hawkeye State fireworks enthusiasts:
The reasons why Cruz prevailed go well beyond his campaign's microtargeting. Maybe Trump should have considered spending real money, or investing in a better ground game himself, or—I'm reaching here—conducting his life in a way that didn't thoroughly alienate the evangelical voters who comprised two-thirds of the electorate. But Cruz has proven that he's a candidate who knows what he's doing.