Paul Ryan was elected Speaker of the House Thursday. The burning question now is can he unite his fractured party?
Republican Party officials understand that the GOP needs unity, but the next BIG question is, "Will the current assemblage of Republican Primary hopefuls for 2016 bring them closer to their goal or will their infighting cause a irreparable schism, ripping the Party apart?” There are plenty of answers, but there is only one right one.
So how do mainstream Republican candidates enter the 'no man's land' of the outsider and still hold their campaigns together? By appealing to their traditional base or has the base changed when no one was looking? We know the Republican voters want someone with the right decision-making skills but over 60 percent of potential GOP voters have told us they also want an “outside Washington, D.C.” type.
Trump, Carson, Fiorina and perhaps Cruz have shown us that being anti-establishment this year is the 'red badge of courage' that certifies their status.
Now that House Republicans, who are broadly reflective of the GOP base, have unified behind Paul Ryan, there is indeed hope for this presidential election to bring forth a more unified GOP.
What does all this confusion mean? To use a foreign policy analogy, the 2016 presidential race is a contest between the anti-establishment “Arab Spring” candidates and the "Status Quo" establishment candidates, the latter portrayed by Trump & Co. as beholden to special interests, lobbyists, career politicians or crony capitalists.
Enter the white knight
The task of choosing the next Speaker of the House of Representatives perfectly demonstrates the challenge of bringing unity to the GOP.
To predict how this will play out we must first understand that the Freedom Caucus and the Tea Party Caucus members , who were intent on getting the 'right speaker,' don't want a soft rapprochement with the Democrats on key issues; they want firm commitments from the Speaker to move bills to the floor.
That was their price for a vote and Paul Ryan better be aware that these members aren't playing softball.
As far as the presidential candidates go, their choice is how they're going to run in the face of a formidable all-out "outsider" sentiment.
They have a fair amount of soul-searching and poll-searching to do, and both searches go way beyond what's being said about them by the media.
Each candidate better understand which sub-constituency of the GOP they represent and why the polling numbers have held up so well for the anti-establishment candidates.
The first cut at this analysis should be on how the GOP base voter broadly perceives its core values concerning the role of government in his or her life.
Gallup’s recent Governance Survey in September shows certain fundamentals, such as conservative Republicans want the government to be more limited and protect basic American values (almost 80%). Furthermore, almost 75 percent of base Republican voters believe the federal government has too much power, and over 60 percent believe the federal government poses “a threat to the rights and freedom of ordinary citizens.” The 'outside Washington D.C.' critique has now become a new core value.
The second cut in the search of clarity focuses on the 'tribal' aspect of Republicans' movement to separate themselves from traditional thinking and attaching themselves to candidates who either sound right on issues or who have actually taken on the Washington, D.C. status quo.
Bringing the 'tribes' together
This tribal impact has never been stronger in the GOP. While much recent attention has been centered on the ascendency of the GOP’s Tea Party movement, they are but one of several tribes that reside in the GOP geopolitical region today.
Political tribes or clans are driven by a number of characteristics such as: religion, the collective past, common origins and their shared views of government. As with most clans, loyalty to core beliefs is paramount. Unfortunately, this singular focus is often very narrow, exclusive, and often hostile. Bringing various tribes together in a national coalition is the essence of election success.
Some recent surveys have attempted to isolate and identify the sub-constituencies within the GOP by defining the priority elements of each tribe (or network).
When self identified conservatives were asked to choose from a typology of networks that best describes themselves, about 30 percent selected the choice of “a social conservative who is more concerned about moral values, protecting the family, and pro-life.”
A second type selected was "a national defense conservative more concerned about protecting America from terrorists and foreign enemies" – only 10 percent of GOP conservatives chose that likeness as singularly dominant to them.
In sum, about 40 percent of Republican conservatives are either social conservatives or neo-conservatives (neo-cons).
Who are the rest?
About 15 percent were conservatives who chose the likeness of “an economic conservative more concerned about jobs, economic growth, and inflation.”
That finding may surprise some in the GOP establishment, but be that as it may, this group has more or less controlled the power in the GOP for many decades even though they were a distinct minority tribe.
However, when adding the self identified non-conservatives in the GOP (i.e., moderates and liberals ,also are a minority of about 15 percent), the combined tribal effect here is a formidable one... 30 percent of the Republican party. This leaves us with the tribe that holds the balance of power today in the GOP.
This swing group is about 25 percent of all conservatives who selected this type to be their version of a conservative; “a Tea Party conservative more concerned about runaway spending, the federal debt, and protecting the U.S. Constitution.”
These survey findings reveal the Herculean task of uniting the Republican Party's four distinct political tribes or networks.
It appears that these tribal groups have already chosen the 'chieftains' they want to carry their message about their views of government during this first hundred days of the primary process.
Donald Trump, who most likely represents the Tea Party (25 percent) and national defense conservatives (10 percent).
Ben Carson appears to be the leader of the social conservatives (about 30 percent), and this could explain why Trump and Carson seem to be leading in the polls with front-runner status.
Economic conservatives, even when allied with liberal-moderate corporate Republicans, are very much divided between Bush, Kasich, Christie and perhaps Rubio.
It also could explain why none pf these men have gained much traction over the last three months.
The gathering of 'nations'
To unite the GOP, it appears that a coalition of the political tribes currently being led or represented by Trump and Carson (almost 65 percent of the total GOP) have the best statistical chance of winning the Republican nomination.
If the establishment GOP finally settles on one candidate rather than splitting their preferences, they can make the primary nomination a real battle.
Historically, the GOP establishment has tended to slowly overwhelm candidates representing the Social-Tea Party networks through a combination of national superior fundraising and an effective national media strategy.
The great self-funding Trump enterprise and Carson’s early success with grass-roots direct mail has created -- at this stage -- a new dynamic that could render the status quo advantages less determinative.
Unify through strength or through surrender
To grow stronger and more resilient, the GOP will have to broadly unify or satisfy four distinct political networks before it can contend for the presidency and develop the kind of voter turnout sadly missing in the last two presidential elections (where the GOP establishment controlled the nomination process).
Done properly, choosing a new Speaker of the House of Representatives will, perhaps, serve as a template for solving future Party disagreements.
Now that House Republicans, who are broadly reflective of the GOP Base, have unified behind Paul Ryan, there is indeed hope for this presidential election to bring forth a more unified GOP.
Lance Tarrance is co-author with S. J. Helgesen of "Breaking Republican" (Stephan\Helgesen, June 7, 2015) and "How Republicans Can Win in a Changing America" (published 2013). He is also the founder of The Tarrance Group, and has been professionally involved in six U.S. presidential campaigns. He now heads up Tarrance Consulting (TARRANCECONSULTING.COM) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Tarrance is a former member of the Board of Directors of The Gallup Organization. He was inducted into The American Association of Political Consultants Hall of Fame in 2013 along with David Axelrod and David Pflouffe.