Republicans are bracing for a multi-car pileup in New Hampshire Tuesday night.
Donald Trump is poised for an easy victory. Meanwhile, polling suggests the establishment candidates are likely to pile up on each other far behind the bombastic billionaire — a nightmare scenario for party elders.
"This is looking like a five-car pileup for second place," said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who is neutral in the primary.
That result would keep any establishment candidate from building momentum coming out of the state. It could also give a candidate like John Kasich or Chris Christie an incentive to stay in the race, and keep screwing over the rest by splitting up the center-right vote in future primaries. The beneficiaries: Ted Cruz and Trump.
Of course, New Hampshire’s actual results could scramble the picture, erasing the GOP establishment’s concerns.
Rubio could finish a strong second despite the thrashing in the media he’s taken over his debate performance, giving him momentum heading into South Carolina.
But strategists aren’t counting on it — and are bracing for the worst.
“This has the makings of a disaster," said O'Connell. "You’re starting to see the establishment continually cannibalize itself.”