The Divided GOP

Patrick Ruffini, on the state of the race:

Despite the different actors and alliances in different states, we are beginning to see the real dividing lines of this campaign. It’s the battle of the moderates (McCain), metro conservatives (Romney), and rural conservatives (Huckabee). Stripped of all other hangers-on (Fred, and increasingly, Rudy), nationwide this divide seems to work out to about 40-40-20, or 35-40-25. Conservatives ought to be winning this battle, but Huckabee’s lock on the rural vote (just 16% of the vote in Charleston County, btw) will prevent any kind of clear two-man race before February 5th. Every day that Huckabee’s nice guy act is allowed to continue is a gift to John McCain — and he knows it.

Mitt Romney is fast becoming the candidate of conservatives in the suburbs and the exurbs. In Michigan, he dominated Oakland and Macomb counties with 46% of the vote in a multi-candidate field. In Nevada, he won most convincingly in Clark County. In Iowa, he did better in Des Moines than elsewhere in the state.

The Romney and McCain coalitions also overlap. They represent two different sides of the establishment coin, with McCain representing an older, mainline establishment — the Republican Party of Gerry Ford, Howard Baker, and Bob Dole — and Romney representing the brasher, post-Reagan establishment that was built on the tax issue and whose alliance with modern-day Huckabee voters allowed them to take control of the party in 1994.

Read the whole thing. Ruffini's analysis implies that in the long run, McCain may need some version of the alliance with Huckabee that keeps being bandied about, because "to start racking up victory margins in the 40s ... he'll need to add votes from the Christian conservative base." The difficulty, of course, is that this would create "an alliance of opposites — of pro-life and pro-choice, of liberal and conservative, of secular and evangelical" behind McCain's candidacy. It would be a deeply peculiar state of affairs: You'd essentially have the party's rightward and leftward factions uniting in a joint insurgency against the "movement" establishment. Handled with great finesse, it could work brilliantly, creating an ecumenical reform coalition within the party and delivering a much-needed jolt of creative destruction to the GOP. But John McCain isn't exactly a finesse politician, and it's just as easy to imagine it blowing up in his face.