According to Olsen, it is somewhat conservatives who always choose the winner of GOP nomination contests, and it is easy to see why. Very conservative evangelicals tend to lose, as the candidates they love the most tend to repel moderates and liberals and very conservative seculars. Very conservative seculars, meanwhile, rarely get their first-choice candidates, as somewhat conservatives are skeptical of doctrinaire libertarian types, particularly when they seem a bit too secular. Moderates and liberals, similarly, will tend to coalesce around the candidate who is most acceptable to the somewhat conservatives.
So there you have it. Even now, as Bush’s proto-campaign underwhelms donors and activists, he has at least a 50-50 shot at winning the GOP nomination, thanks to the fact that he can make just enough Republicans dislike his most plausible opponents more than they dislike him. But will brutal attacks on Marco Rubio’s youth and inexperience will inspire young people? Will months of tearing into Scott Walker encourage blue-collar Midwestern swing voters to back Bush? Could it be that condemning Rand Paul as a reckless isolationist will prove to skeptical moderates that he’s learned from the failures of George W. Bush’s foreign policy?
The Republican candidate who can win in 2016 is the candidate who can fight the Democratic candidate to a draw on the question of which candidate “cares about people like me.” The fact that voters found Barack Obama more attuned to their economic anxieties than Mitt Romney is a big part of the reason Obama won, despite the fact that voters found much to like in Romney. Jeb Bush has many virtues. Relatability is not one of them. He should do the right thing and clear the way for the next generation of Republicans.