Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Lizza on GOP Kingmakers

Going into tonight's Republican debate, Ryan Lizza offers an interesting take on party Kingmakers in The New Yorker.

The question that has hung over the Republican race for the past few months is whether the party is on the path to producing another historic loser by nominating an unelectable candidate, like Donald Trump or Ben Carson, or whether Republican voters, many of whom don’t make up their minds until the final days before a caucus or primary, will settle down with a more traditional—and electable—candidate, such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, or even the voluble Ted Cruz.

But has the Republican Party really lost its mind? Is it really going to nominate someone like Trump (or Carson), whose views are so far outside the mainstream that either would pave the way for a historic Democratic landslide?

It’s doubtful.

The overwhelming majority of Republican voters have repeatedly told pollsters this year that, whatever their choice in any given poll, they haven’t made up their minds yet. Most won’t think hard about their decision for at least another three months. At this point in 2008, Rudy Giuliani was the polling leader. In 2012, it was Cain. Rather than tell us anything deep about voter sentiments, polls at this point generally reflect name recognition and which candidates are receiving the most media attention at any given time.

That’s why, despite Bush’s obvious troubles this year, it makes no sense for him to drop out of the race while he still has money in the bank and a very flush Super PAC financing an advertising blitz on his behalf. The most likely scenario remains that the G.O.P. will eventually coalesce around the most conservative candidate who is electable. Bush seems less and less likely to be that person, not because of Trump but because someone like Marco Rubio seems more conservative and more electable.

While the G.O.P.’s rightward lurch is well-documented, the influence of the most conservative voters in Republican primaries is frequently overstated. Last year Henry Olsen, writing in the National Interest, dissected the Republican electorate and explained that it is divided into four groups: “moderate or liberal voters; somewhat conservative voters; very conservative, evangelical voters; and very conservative, secular voters.” His surprising argument was that, while most of the media coverage focusses on the latter two groups, which are louder and often more interesting to cover, it is the candidate who wins over the “somewhat conservative voters” who has the best shot at the nomination.

The most important of these groups is the one most journalists don’t understand and ignore: the somewhat conservative voters. This group is the most numerous nationally and in most states, comprising 35–40 percent of the national G.O.P. electorate. While the numbers of moderates, very conservative and evangelical voters vary significantly by state, somewhat conservative voters are found in similar proportions in every state. They are not very vocal, but they form the bedrock base of the Republican Party.

They also have a significant distinction: they always back the winner. The candidate who garners their favor has won each of the last four open races....They like even-keeled men with substantial governing experience. They like people who express conservative values on the economy or social issues, but who do not espouse radical change.

While Trump often talks about the silent majority he is awakening, his actual supporters come from the G.O.P.’s noisy minority. The true silent majority in the Republican Party hasn’t picked its candidate yet. As Olsen makes clear, the G.O.P. Presidential electorate is little different from four years ago. Super PACs have not been able to save the candidacies of Rick Perry or Scott Walker, so the traditional process that winnows the field of unfunded candidates continues apace. It’s possible that the “somewhat conservative” kingmakers will end up backing Trump or Carson, but the safe money remains on Rubio, Bush, or even Kasich—one of those “even-keeled men with substantial governing experience.”

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