The Republican Party is divided, but not in the binary way in which the media and most pundits describe: namely, the Pro-Trump and the Anti-Trump forces. The GOP convention in Cleveland is highlighting what I view as the four “quarters” of the party. Here they are, with each representing approximately 25% of the the party (which is a broad estimate, since I have no data at this point to back up my analysis):
1) The populists (a.k.a. the Trumpsters). In this group are some self-described conservatives, some blue-collar Democrats, a lot (but not all) of Tea Partiers, anti-illegal immigrationists all sewn together by a fierce hatred of Hillary and Bill Clinton, and President Obama. They see in Trump a brash outsider willing to “stick it in the eye” of whoever Donald is beating up on a particular day. Some days that is President Obama, some days it is the Clintons, and some days it is the old guard GOP establishment. Most if not all are “patriots” in that they view the United States as a superior nation that is not given the respect it is due internationally and domestically. They are tired of the politically correct morass that envelopes key institutions of our society and government. They are driven by both emotion and conceptual thinking, with the scales balanced a bit more on emotion.
2) The New Guard Establishment. The “new guard” is actually made up of many of what would be considered the “old guard” establishment of the party. It’s the current party leadership (Priebus, Barber, etc.) but it’s also many of those (from a variety of ideological stripes) who have either enthusiastically or reluctantly embraced The Donald. At their core, they are pragmatists. They will spout conservative principles but when the chips are down, they want to “win” elections more than adhere to principle. This group includes Rick Perry, Tom Cotton, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. They understand governance, because they’ve been there. They think a half-a-loaf is better than no loaf but usually find out too late the half they’ve given up is the half with the yeast.
3) The Old Guard Establishment. This group includes mostly moderate Republicans — who have governed and are also pragmatic — but are appalled at where Trump has taken “their” party. They may have disagreement with Trump on some issues (such as immigration) but their beef is driven more by style, courtesy (or lack thereof) and respect (or lack thereof) — with a hint of hurt ego and jealousy in the mix. Jeb Bush and John Kasich come to mind as good examples of this group. This is the group that is bleeding the most, with many defecting to the “New Guard” in an attempt to be perceived as relevant.
4) The Principled Conservatives. Ted Cruz obviously leads this segment, particularly after last night’s convention speech. These are the true conservatives — who place ideology above party pragmatism. They make governing more difficult for those attempting to do so but help keep legislation from getting too far afield from conservative principles. Members also include Mike Lee, Leon Wolf, Erick Erickson. They pride themselves on an intellectual approach to their positions without letting the emotion of the moment sway them off course. The question over the next 12 months to three years will be, will the principled conservatives leave the party or lead the party?
In my opinion, if Trump doesn’t win 90 percent of the Republican electorate, there is no way for him to win the presidency. To do so, he must win a hefty majority of the Principled Conservatives and Old Guard Establishment. This is tough sledding for him. Naming Mike Pence as his running mate may have helped with these groups, but in accepting the VP nomination — by definition — Pence removed himself from either of the last two groups so the net effect for Trump is nominal at best.
For Cruz to re-establish himself as a credible presidential candidate in four years, he’ll need to persuade at least three of these groups to support him in order to win the nomination. This is also a hill perhaps too steep to climb. Winning re-election to the Senate in 2018 will be Cruz’s do-or-die test in this regard.