Two unconventional candidates, businessman Donald Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are leading the Republican presidential field. Both are often described together as political “outsiders.” But that label misses an important point: Each one appeals to a different segment of the GOP primary base.
Mr. Carson is drawing support from more-conservative Republicans concerned with “values” issues, while Mr. Trump is building a base on moderate Republicans and tea party supporters, according to the numbers from the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
The article draws an important picture, one that may not be recognized as yet by the larger bodies of Trump and Carson supporters:
Mr. Trump’s support among self-described “moderate/liberal” primary voters could mean problems for him once Republicans begin voting, given the conservative bent of the GOP voters who actually tend to cast ballots.
The most recent history of votes in the 2012 caucus and primary states shows clearly that more conservative candidates fared better than those with moderate or liberal support. While the broader Republican electorate may be more aligned along a ‘moderate’ bias, Republican primary voters are not.
As for the WSJ/NBC News numbers:
The point here is that it’s hard to ride to the Republican nomination on the backs of moderates and liberals, currently Mr. Trump’s strength.
It’s also important to note this is clear validation of Frank Cannon’s assertion in “Building a Winning GOP Coalition,” that values matter and that social issues (yes, economics is a social issue when argued properly) are winning issues.
It’s said that a social conservative is, by nature, also conservative on fiscal and defense issues. But a fiscal or defense conservative is not, by nature, anything else. This truism bodes well only for Dr. Carson in the early primaries (Iowa and S.C. especially, N.H. less so) where early victories and high showings can transform voter doubts and translate into momentum (think Mike Huckabee, 2008).
A larger question looms for Dr. Carson, though. Should his new front runner status eventually propel him to the Republican nomination, will he be able to translate his quasi-Biblical primary rhetoric into a transcendent common language; one that appeals to the broader Republican Party (conservative and moderate alike) as well as to classic swing voters and disaffected Democrats? If he can, then the story of this election will not be Establishment vs. Conservative so much as that Outsiders have become the new Insiders.
Clint Cline is the president of Design4, a national media and messaging firm based in Florida.