… Exit and entrance polls of Republican primaries and caucuses going back to 1996 show that the Republican presidential electorate is remarkably stable. It does not divide neatly along establishment-versus-conservative lines. Rather, the GOP contains four discrete factions that are based primarily on ideology, with elements of class and religious background tempering that focus. Open nomination contests during this period are resolved first by how candidates become favorites of each of these factions, and then by how they are positioned to absorb the voting blocs of the other factions as their favorites drop out.
This analysis allows us to explain what we consistently observe. It explains why a conservative party rarely nominates the most conservative candidate. It explains why the party often seems to nominate the “next in line.” And, perhaps most importantly, it explains why certain candidates emerge as the “surprise” candidate in each race. CONT.
Henry Olsen (Ethics and Public Policy Center), The National Interest