To win the presidency, you have to win a primary, and to win a primary, you have to carry New Hampshire, powerful all out of proportion to its size or population.
Reporting from the front lines of “a small but essential island of virtue and discernment adrift in the vast sea of contemptibility that consumes our public life every four years,” producer and documentary director Conroy (co-author: Sarah from Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar, 2009) ponders how New Hampshire could have so much sway over the nation’s presidential politics. He doesn’t provide much in the way of a firm answer, but he does allow that New Hampshire is small, ethnically and culturally undiverse, and used to participatory government, meaning that candidates who brave its borders find themselves having to talk to real people, mostly older and mostly white, about real issues. Instead, Conroy delivers vignette moments along the trail. It’s easy from his account to see, for instance, why New York–born Bernie Sanders fits in so well in the politics of New England; his impatience with small talk and delay (“God help you if he was ready to go and you weren’t”) is perfectly in tune with the brisk pace of getting it done that New Hampshirites embrace. Conroy can sting nicely, as when he writes, “Rand Paul proved to be neither the most interesting man in politics nor the most interesting man in his own family,” and he gets in a few digs on points that have since become clichés (“Trump shot back, extending his tiny hands as far to his sides as they would stretch”). The narrative never goes deep, but it runs broad, covering the last campaign while drawing on a couple of its predecessors and not letting anyone come out unscathed.
It’s not Fear and Loathing or even The Boys on the Bus, but Conroy turns in a quirky, well-observed account of how electoral politics works.