There’s a new book coming out by Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and in it, he divides the Republicans into four camps:
They are: (1) moderate or liberal voters; (2) somewhat conservative voters; (3) very conservative, evangelical voters; and (4) very conservative, secular voters. Each of these groups supports extremely different types of candidates. Each of these groups has also demonstrated stable preferences over the past twenty years.
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 GOP 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.
This is true. Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Even-keeled men with substantial governing experience. These are the picks of the somewhat conservative voters.
But what we are see playing out in the GOP race so far is a battle between the two smallest, but loudest of the four groups… the very conservative evangelical voters and the very conservative secular voters. Most of the candidates are chasing one of those two groups (with some notable exceptions — Kasich appears to want the moderate or liberal GOP voters, and Christie appears to want the somewhat conservative voters). The very conservatives look at McCain and Romney and say they did not win because they were not conservative enough, a rather stupid assessment since any move further from the center is not going to get more, but less, support from the population. (Does anyone really think that Carson is more likely to get moderates and liberals compared to Romney?)
From a GOP standpoint, Iowa is very conservative/evangelical. It will not pick a candidate that appeals to the 35-40 percent of GOP voters who are merely somewhat liberal. Candidates are paying to Iowa in order to get a bounce, but the thing is, the bounce won’t last. It won’t mean a win (in fact, an Iowa win usually means you don’t have what it takes to get the GOP nomination).
When will the shedding start? After Iowa, I expect you will see some consensus building among the four camps. For example, in the very conservative/evangelical category, you have Carson, Santorum, Huckabee and Jindel. Three of those will be gone by the end of New Hampshire’s primary, leaving Carson as the very conservative/evangelical go-to guy. Once the pack gets down to six or so, that’s when the race really begins.
In the end, it will fall upon the somewhat conservative voters to throw their collective weight behind someone. Right now, they are split and/or undecided and/or not paying attention. Eventually, that will change, and the map will look VERY different (and they will back Rubio, I predict)