Typical analysis of Presidential nominating contests focus on the early Caucus states of Iowa and Nevada and primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. But rarely have few candidates succeeded in all of the the states or even three out of four and gone onto being a party’s nominee.
This is particularly true on the GOP side in recent years. In 2008 Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Caucuses and Mitt Romney the Nevada Caucuses but John McCain, winning New Hampshire and South Carolina, was the nominee. In 2012, Rick Santorum won Iowa, Romney won New Hampshire and Gingrich won South Carolina yet Romney was the eventual nominee. So how did Romney and McCain, who struggled to consolidate support in 2008 and 2012, win the GOP nomination with the blessing of the establishment.
The answer is simple. Blue state Republicans. These voters, in both the Northeast and Pacific Coast hold considerable sway in the Presidential nominating contest. This might make conservatives howl in outrage but it suggests why a Ted Cruz type candidate would fail to coalesce the party in a primary.
Consider these interesting stats from Nate Cohn, ” In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.”
So, if the establishment/moderate GOP candidate (or in 2016’s case, candidates) can get past the first few early voting states than they has a real shot once blue state Republicans start voting. Cohn further adds “Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama. Those states hold 50 percent of the delegates to the Republican National Convention, even though they contain just 19 percent of Republican senators. Just 11 percent of House Republicans hail from districts that voted for President Obama.”
That does not mean a conservative Republican cannot win their votes. George Bush managed to do so in 2000 for example. But more likely than not the conservative candidate has to appeal to these voters on issues less important to the party grassroots. This is why Scott Walker is considered such a strong contender as is Marco Rubio. Both have solid pro-life credentials but neither pushes them to the forefront of their campaign like a Ted Cruz. Instead, they tout their fiscal and economic ideas which appeal to these suburban/rural GOP voters.
Now, both Walker and Rubio could be considered establishment contenders just like McCain and Romney. The candidacies of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul less so. So the moderate/establishment vs. conservative dynamic has yet to appear in this race. Well, okay, most would clearly say Jeb Bush is the moderate in this contest.
But few should doubt why the establishment usually wins in Presidential nominating contests. The majority of GOP nominating voters, and thus delegates, reside in big blue states. And these voters, while solidly Republican, are not archly conservative voters and tend to be swayed by arguments of pragmatism and electability. The party base may not like it but this is the reality of the modern day GOP nominating contest.