I spent some time this morning on Morning Joe and then with Carol Costello (fellow NEOer) on CNN Newsroom, working in my theory of the state of the GOP primary now. I’ll join Don Lemon tonight for more on this subject. After last week’s debate and Meet the Press Sunday I feel like my 15 minutes is being revised and extended. But, never miss an opportunity to opine when folks are listening.
I was very surprised by Governor Walker’s stepping aside, as he was not only a wonderful and successful governor and a very good man, he also had plenty of Super Pac money. His gracious explanation for his exit — the need to focus the GOP primary electorate– ought to be on the front edge of all candidates’ brains this evening. The country has to elect a GOP president. Has to. Thus sacrifices of personal ambition have to be made. I salute Governors Perry and Walker –who between them have won seven statewide races in key states– for being men as big as the country’s need. They could have battled on with Super Pac dollars and low cost air tickets, but putting the country ahead of ambition is a noble thing and they get credit for doing it.
I now see four types of GOP primary voters, and not all of them are conservatives or even Republicans, as Independents and even Democrats can vote in some of the early primaries and the candidates who plan on winning have to take that reality into account as they plan their campaigns.
There are the “True Believers,” to use Eric Hoffer’s term, and they have picked a candidate and are sticking to him come Hell or high water unless and until he drops out or wins. These folks are primarily behind Dr. Carson or Senator Cruz or Governor Huckabee or Senator Santorum or Donald Trump. Though some of these voters have a natural home in another “True Believer” camp if their man drops out, some will scatter to the candidates in other categories. (I don’t sense a lot of overlap between Carson and Trump voters, for example.)
The “Buckley Voters” –who tend to support the most conservative candidate they see as plausibly winning (not long shots, but plausible winners) in the fall of next year. Governors Walker and Perry supporters were primarily from this group of voters, and I expect those voters to gravitate to either Carly Fiorina or Senator Rubio, with a few hanging on to the hopes of a Governor Jindal rebound. Some of these voters will think Governors Bush, Christie, and Kasich are “the most conservative candidate who can win,” but for various reasons, I think of those three as more squarely in the third category, and voters in this second category as less likely to support these three than the other two I mentioned, but more likely to move to them than to a “True Believer” candidate if both of these candidates fade.
That third category is “center-right governing conservatives,” Republican primary voters who want to get legislation passed by assembling coalitions in D.C. that include some Democrats. The rhetoric here is also more inclusive more of the time than the others, and less combative most of the time, though the lines are blurry. What isn’t blurry is that these three are aiming primarily at New Hampshire primary voters where Independents can vote in the GOP primary. (It is the case in South Carolina that anyone can vote in either primary as they declare when they walk into the booth which party primary they wish to participate in, and it is certainly the case in many other early states that non-Republicans can vote in the GOP primaries. Playing for Independents in the Granite State and eslewhere is a key part of each of these three campaigns.)
The fourth group of voters are what I call “Uniques.” They are in it to support a candidate for a unique reason or because of unique appeal. Senator Paul draws heavily on the Uniques, as does Lindsey Graham, though their voters are completely separate camps. Senator Paul’s are from the libertarian wing, and Senator Graham’s are from the “defense first” part of the party combined with folks who want him to upset the apple cart in his home state of South Carolina in order to send the race towards an open convention.