GOP conservatives, populists suddenly in fierce battle

A conservative strategist who has advised insurgent Republican candidates said these differences have often been apparent in the South, the bedrock of the Republican Party’s electoral support. “Mississippi is a pretty pro-life, Republican state,” this operative said. “But they like getting stuff from the government. It’s why there’s been less support for the types of candidates backed by conservative outside groups, there and in Alabama — even though they’re heavily Republican — than in Ohio, Georgia and Texas.”

The populist wing of the GOP tends to be white, working class and economically and culturally disaffected. They either attended some or no college, although they also include the college educated. Many were, or might have been Democrats, had the Democratic Party, in their view, not abandoned them by placing a greater value on catering to the desires of ethnic minorities and immigrants. They describe themselves as “conservative.”

Usually, these voters lock hands with doctrinaire, small government conservatives to form a firewall through which a Republican primary candidate has trouble passing unless they meet the minimum threshold of conservatism demanded by the conservative wing of the GOP. But Trump, because of his appeal to populist voters, is upending that deal, and in doing so usurping power from the conservative wing, although many political analysts believe this dynamic will be short-lived…

“If ‘conservative populist’ means a really angry older white voter who dislikes Obama … but has absolutely no ideological underpinnings, then I guess that term would apply to Trump and his followers,” said a Republican strategist who has advised both insurgent and establishment-aligned GOP candidates.