By SHANE GOLDMACHER, von politico.com 24.2.2016
After winning three of the first four nominating contests, Donald Trump hasn’t just hijacked the Republican Party but fractured it newly into three.
The populist billionaire’s rise to the pinnacle of Republican politics has upended what had been decades of relative GOP stability, a 40-year span in which most Republican presidential contests since 1976 neatly narrowed to an establishment-embraced front-runner and a conservative insurgent alternative.
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Suddenly, there are three strands of Republicanism, each entrenched and vying for supremacy in 2016. Ted Cruz is the leader of the traditional conservative purists. Marco Rubio is emerging from the mud of a multicandidate brawl to lead the once-dominant, now diminished, mainstream lane of the GOP.
But it is Trump’s new alliance of angry populists that is ascendant — and on the precipice of dominance.
Built on the backs of working-class men and women who feel abandoned, economically and culturally, Trump’s coalition has both brought in new voters and carved out support from the other two. Trump won over evangelicals from Cruz in South Carolina, and even more resoundingly again in Nevada. He then took moderates from the mainstream in New Hampshire and Nevada en route to landslide victories in three consecutive states.
“What Trump is consolidating is the people who are unhappy being in either camp — those who don’t see themselves as conservative insurgents or as mainstream Republicans,” said Yuval Levin, an influential Republican thinker and editor of the quarterly conservative journal National Affairs. “They’re insurgents but they’re not conservatives. And they’re not happy with the system that gave us that binary choice.”
“It’s kind of Archie Bunker types,” said Glen Bolger, a veteran Republican pollster who is unaligned in 2016 but opposed to Trump.
If Nevada’s thorough Trump triumph is any indication, there are many such Archie Bunkers inside Cruz’s Christian coalition and Rubio’s bulwark of suburban professionals. “We won with the highly educated,” as Trump said in his victory speech. “We won with the poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.“
So far, none of the Republican Party’s three distinct wings has proved it holds a majority, but Trump is inching closer — topping 40 percent for the first time in Nevada. Trump, Cruz and Rubio each appears to have a following that could prevent the others from reaching the required 1,237 delegates — and so far, each seems more willing to lose than to compromise with the others.
“We’re kind of at a stalemate,” said Tony Perkins, the prominent evangelical leader who heads the Family Research Council and supports Cruz. “We could be on our way to a brokered convention.”
If so, Cruz will have to claw his way back into the race with a strong showing in the Super Tuesday states, where he’s campaigned heavily on the assumption that conservatives across the South would go for his brand of hard-line purity over Trump’s angry populism.
“This is the most important race since 1980 to determine what the future of the Republican Party is,” said Henry Olsen, author of a recent book about the GOP’s internal divisions.
“The Republican Party has been the same for decades. The factions have been the same, the arguments have been the same, the size of the factions have been the same,” Olsen said, adding that whoever emerges this year is likely to break that logjam.
The tea party’s rise, meanwhile, has dragged the entire Republican Party so far to the right that Rubio, who himself was an anti-establishment insurgent in 2010, is now a darling of the mainstream GOP. The remaining moderate Republicans left behind by these evolutionary forces have lined up behind John Kasich, whose self-described “prince of light and hope” campaign still gamely insists 2016 remains a “four-person race.”
At the center of this realignment is Trump, who has defied not just the pundits, but typical ideological constraints of American politics — smashing through traditional notions of electability and decorum as he blusters his way toward the nomination.
Remarkably, Trump has drawn almost equally large support across the GOP’s ideological spectrum: winning 32 percent of moderates, 36 percent of somewhat conservatives and 35 percent of people calling themselves very conservative in New Hampshire, according to exit polling. In South Carolina, the totals were 34 percent, 35 percent and 29 percent. In Nevada, the scores were a remarkable 55 percent, 50 percent and 38 percent.
“Trump has gotten voters who are so angry that they are willing to put their ideological concerns aside,” said Patrick Murray, a pollster at Monmouth University who has extensively surveyed the 2016 race. “We have never seen voters do that to this extent. They’re saying, ‘We’re so ticked off that that’s the only message that matters.’”
Trump channels their anger, retweets their curse words and shares their distrust of elites in politics and the media. Just like them, he traffics in conspiracy theories (from Obama’s birthplace to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death) and faux facts (the past killing of Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs‘ blood). In one of the most revealing moments of how Trump has, quite literally, elevated the angriest voices, he repeated a never-before-said vulgarity by a presidential candidate the evening before the New Hampshire primary after it was shouted by someone in the crowd.
He romped to victory 24 hours later.
While Cruz has tried to tap into frustrated voters via ideology, Rubio has been far more reluctant to amplify the angriest voices, saying repeatedly, “It is not enough to simply nominate someone who is angry.”
In South Carolina last week, when a voter shouted that Hillary Clinton was a “traitor,” Rubio interjected gently, “I wouldn’t go that far, sir.” And last month, in Iowa, when another voter worried about Islamic sharia law coming to America, Rubio rebutted, “Guys, that’s not going to happen.”
While Rubio dances around the electorate’s resentments, Trump revels in them. On primary night in South Carolina, he tapped into their nationalism as he whacked at Mexico and China. “They’ve taken our jobs, they’ve taken our money, they’ve taken our everything,” he declared.
The crowd cheered wildly. “I showed anger and the people of our country are very angry!” Trump later tweeted about his South Carolina victory.
Perkins, the evangelical leader, described the Trump phenomenon’s lack of ideology this way: “You can’t be fearful and thoughtful at the same time.”
If Cruz’s coalition is the very conservative and Rubio’s is the GOP elites (he won 47 percent of those who most valued electability in South Carolina; his problem is that voters who valued that have plummeted by almost two-thirds since 2012), Trump’s common thread is socioeconomic class.
In each state so far, Trump has finished stronger among blue-collar voters than white-collar ones. And in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, exit polls show Trump’s support dropped with each additional education level a voter attained. Among non-college graduates, he topped 40 percent in the latter two states and scored a majority in Nevada.
“Whether someone has a college degree or not has become a major fault line in American politics these days,” noted Bolger.
For now, the chaos of 2016 is redounding to Trump’s benefit.
“The more the non-Trump vote is divided, the better off he does,” Bolger said.