Americans are a trusting people. We trust that our neighbors behave decently inside their own homes and therefore do not see fit to constantly check on them but rather let them live in peace; we trust that our fellow citizens will act with decency in their jobs so we feel comfortable buying a carton of milk at the store on the corner. But if anyone demonstrates that he would violate humanity's decency or prevent the decent man from sticking up for himself, Americans turn on him quickly and aggressively. Suspicion replaces trust, seething anger casts out friendliness. As the First Marine Division's motto states, there is "no better friend, no worse enemy."
This quality of the American character is the reason that Americans's hackles go up when it is suggested that the political donor class or Washington elites influence elections more than the people. This disproportionate influence is perceived as an offense against decency and the ability of the decent man to assert himself through the electoral process. Moreover, it leaves the impression that those who prevent the people from choosing their favored candidate do not favor the peaceful coexistence of power and decency. If elites decide elections, power belongs not to the decent but solely to the rich.
Ironically, this means that to accuse an opponent of trying to sow discord among decent citizens by gaining an upper hand in elections through wealth is a source of power. It's also one of the most frequently utilized attacks in the current presidential campaign. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have used their freedom from big donors to buy themselves credibility with voters, declaring in the meantime that "enough is enough" (Sanders) and "I can't be bought" (Trump). The electorate has responded to that message, declaring that democracy as we know it is bankrupt and it's time to bring power back to the people.
Not so fast, say Henry Olsen and Dante J. Scala in their book The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Election. At least in the Republican party, candidates are still chosen by the people. There are big donors and there is the phenomenon of momentum, whereby candidates benefit from the exposure they gain from early victories. However, more important than both of those factors is the ideology of the voters. Olsen and Scala take an in-depth look at the past three open-ended battles for the Republican nomination. In all three, they find that there are four factions in the Republican Party electorate: moderate or liberal; somewhat conservative; very conservative evangelical; and very conservative secular. When the last three battles for the Republican presidential nomination are properly examined, an underlying logic is revealed that demonstrates the vital importance of the ideology when analyzing elections. What voters think about political issues is the driving force in elections.
The bulk of Olsen and Scala's book is comprised of portraits of these four factions and their ideologies. The authors introduce their readers to the factions by chronicling their influence, tendencies, and characteristics over those last three elections. In the process, the reader learns about modern electoral history as well as the character of the Republican party as a whole today. That character is not defined by the oft-cited tension between establishment and anti-establishment, but rather by a cobbled together coalition built by a leader.
The Republican party nominee has always found a way to convince one or more of the factions that comprise the party to get on his side early; that is, during the first four crucial caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Those states differ significantly: Iowa boasts a high number of very conservative evangelicals; New Hampshire, partly because it allows undeclared voters to pick up a Republican ballot, contains between forty and forty-five percent moderates or liberals; South Carolina is comprised of a mix of the factions; and Nevada's electorate is made up of more than normal very conservative seculars.
The most powerful group and the most misunderstood is the "somewhat conservatives." Olsen and Scala remark that this is the group least understood by journalists and therefore ignored by them. But this isn't because of lack of influence: in fact, "they always back the winner."
It's somewhat unfair to label this group "somewhat" conservative. After all, this group is "conservative in both senses of the word: they prefer the ideals of American conservatism while displaying the cautious disposition of the Burkean." The best image of this type of Republican is John Boehner, whose cautious incrementalism ran him the wrong side of the Tea Party movement in the last few years.
It is fair after 2016's version of Iowa and New Hampshire to ask whether Olsen and Scala's analysis will remain true: will somewhat conservatives – the John Boehner people - again win the day? Or are the days of the somewhat conservative as the "bedrock base" of the Republican party gone? Has the Tea Party in fact altered the playing field? However those questions play out over the next nine months, we can rest assured given Olsen and Scala's analysis that the people will be deciding how they're answered.