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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Conservative Wing Drives GOP Primary

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

Now that the dust-up of the second GOP presidential primary debate is dissipating, Trump, Carson, and now Fiorina are emerging as the top-tier candidates.

What is interesting is that in the latest two polls, freshly surveyed following the second debate, the confessed ‘political outsiders’—are garnering 54 or 55 percent combined among self-identified Republicans or Republican-leaning voters.

With the possibility that a true ‘outsider/non-elected/non-politician’ becoming the potential presidential nominee for the Republican Party, the Republican National Committee’s diagnosis following the party’s 2012 presidential defeat seems to be going unheard, to put it kindly.

“Instead of driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac,” the GOP study, called the Growth and Opportunity Project, made it very clear that the party “needs to stop talking to itself.”

It went on to say the Republican Party has “become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Yet it appears the grass-roots conservatives are forcing the party to abandon its potential electoral pragmatism for the ideological “true believers.”

This is evident in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll that had 64 percent of conservative Republicans wanting the next president to be “someone from outside the existing political establishment.”

In looking at those who identified as conservative in the post-second debate CNN poll, the top three were Trump (21 percent), Fiorina (19 percent), and Carson (13 percent), matching their combined total among all respondents. But where does the top “insider” candidate rank among those who identify as “conservative?” At 13 percent is Marco Rubio, the same as “outsider” Carson.

While some would argue that the field is still fluid in terms of support, this year’s GOP presidential competition doesn’t seem to have any of the hallmarks of 2012, or previous contests.

In 2012, it seemed like the “candidate of the month” rollercoaster ride was to avoid anyone but the conventional wisdom nominee, Mitt Romney.  Prior to 2012, it was always “the silver medalist” in the previous presidential primary contest who typically would become the party’s nominee.

But this year, it seems like conservative voters have a more viable set of candidates, especially those who proclaim themselves as true political outsiders.

Granted, when the caucus and primary votes are finally cast, GOP voters may decide not to go with their conservative ideological heart but rather a more pragmatic mind. If Rubio can sustain his connection and support to the conservative wing, he may be in a position to fuse the staunch ideological wing with the establishment wing to a nomination, especially if he can keep his head down in what will be rocky fall in Congress.

Back in May, political scientist Wayne Steger noted that when a political party fails to have a coalescing of endorsers and elites around one clear front-runner, then it’s anybody’s ballgame for the nomination.

For all her self-inflicted damage, Hillary Clinton has been able to garner those endorsements and keep her lead, however much it has shrunk. On the GOP side, the lack of any clear winner only helps explain the chaos that the party seems to be experiencing—and why it has yet to figure out what it wants.