The 2016 election defies all attempts to analyze it. Exit polls have been little help and many traditional terms used to define the Republican voting base have failed: Evangelicals, Conservatives, liberals, the establishment, and moderates. The traditional view of the political spectrum has led to poor analysis and poor decisions.
To avoid blunders in the future, it’s critical to understand how people think and vote. People don’t think on an ideological straight line. There are other factors and factions within the right.
There are several sets of values. We may hold to several sets, but we’ll prioritize one over the other. For example, some who are pro-life will define the issue as secondary to fighting terrorism or reforming the tax code. What sort of value sets are present within this spectrum? I’m going to take a stab at defining it here:
Moral Conservative (M) : Supports restoring traditional values, protecting the Innocent, and sanctity of human life as a priority for national life and activism. This set usually includes support for Israel.
Libertarian (L): Values extremely limited government in all spheres: economic, foreign policy, and social issues. This includes non-aggression and non-interference in the affairs of other nations, and strict limits on the ability of government actions to protect us.
Reform Conservatism (R): Focused on practical fixes to apply conservative principles to government in the hopes of creating efficiency and having government programs solve problems and move people towards self-sufficiency as opposed to engendering dependence and keeping government workers in jobs. Features goals such as reducing the deficit, limiting the size and scope of government, and returning power to the people.
Paleo Conservatives (Paleo): Concerned with old-school conservative ideas, many of which pre-date Reagan, including support for the Constitution as written, distrust of the Eastern establishment, support for limits on trade, and concern about international organizations.
Constitutionalist (C): Dedicated to maintaining and keeping American government as close to the constitutional ideals as possible and ensuring the provisions are properly enforced.
Neocon (N): Concerned about national defense, believes in a strong American presence and role in the world in constraining evil and promoting America’s interests abroad and democracy in general including through the use of force.
Economic Purist (E): Believes in limited government, low taxes, and free trade. Any deviation from that path will be viewed with mistrust. Opposition to free trade in any circumstance is verboten and will make you a protectionist in their eyes.
Go-Along Voter (G): This voter takes the path of least resistance. They support party leadership, incumbents, and their continuance in office. They don’t support negative social changes or bad government programs, but they’ll do little to stop them and nothing to roll them back.
Populist (Pop): The populist is concerned with government being on the side of the people. This manifests itself as being politically incorrect, telling it like it is, standing up against entrenched interests, and making proposals focused on ordinary people rather than on ideological grounds. They also make proposals appeal to our visceral dislike of politicians but that don’t do anything to affect large scale problems (such as cutting $165,000 Congressional Salaries to reduce a $20 trillion national debt.)
This captures the schools of thought within the Republican Party. Most Republicans probably sympathize with several of these schools to one degree or another, however certain ideas tend to predominate. It’s also true, at different times, people may prioritize different ideals. You also can see how certain groups may overlap on some issues. For example, a Populist and Paleo Con can have similar ideas on trade but different reasons for reaching the conclusion.
I think looking at the right this way explains a lot about this election. Trump isn’t a Conservative at all, he is a Moderate, but he presents himself as a Populist. As such, he has attracted others with a populist streak, such as Sarah Palin, while gaining support from many moderates in the Northeast. At the same time, Trump’s rhetoric on trade and immigration has won the support of Paleocons like Pat Buchanan and Phylis Schlafly
It’s also easy to track many of Ted Cruz’s struggles this cycle, particularly compared to prior Iowa Caucus winners Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Huckabee and Santorum were often viewed as Social Conservatives whose wins could be explained by their moral (social) conservatism. As Ted Cruz was a moral (social) conservative with more money, he would do better. Yet, while Cruz has won many caucuses, he’s only won one primary state that Huckabee and Santorum won (Oklahoma.) They both insisted their appeal in 2008 and 2012 was broader than this but nobody wanted to listen.
However, if you examine their agenda, you’ll find Santorum and Huckabee mixed populism in along with reform conservatism and their moral conservatism and that aided them in winning coalitions in Southern state primaries which Cruz has lost.
Ted Cruz mixes Economic Purism in along with Constitutionalism which can be a tough sell in states where populism dominates. He appeals to libertarians because he shares some of their ideals, as well as those voters for whom moral values are a prime concern. He picks up reform conservatives by lack of anyone closer to their values.
It’s important for those who want to influence the future of our country and want to get a conservative elected to have some understanding of how they’re going to build a winning coalition. Using phrases such as “The Conservative vote,” and “Evangelical Voters,” won’t cut it.