Ted Cruz had a quiet night in New Hampshire by design. For the Cruz camp, the name of the game was managing expectations—ensuring that their performance in the state could not be spun as a loss—so he largely stayed above the fray. But while the spin didn’t approach post-Iowa Rubio levels, the little coverage Cruz got was often rapturous. On CNN, Van Jones (and most of the other 37 people on screen with him) effusively praised the Cruz campaign for ... staying quiet. HuffPo ran a piece called “New Hampshire Was A Very Good Night For Ted Cruz,” while The Daily Caller declared, “Ted Cruz Might Be The Real Winner In New Hampshire.”
Cruz finished third with 11.6 percent of the vote. While every election season is its own special little snowflake, that’s not terribly different from how the last two Iowa winners performed. In 2008, Mike Huckabee finished third with 11.2 percent of the vote. In 2012, Rick Santorum finished fifth (50 votes behind Newt Gingrich) with 9.2 percent. Neither of those guys went on to win the nomination. And in 2016, Cruz’s performance in New Hampshire looks a lot close to theirs than the eventual nominees’.
But Cruz’s victory is being spun this way because people believe in his strategy—drafting behind Trump and playing political prevent defense until the evangelical Southern states vote—and because no one really has any idea what’s going to happen in this election.