The largest faction of the GOP are those who tell pollsters they are “somewhat conservative,” and their priorities are quite different from those of liberty conservatives. They like people who do not share the overt religiosity of the very conservative Evangelicals even if they themselves are religious. They always back the very person whom liberty conservatives come to view as the epitome of the “establishment.” In 2000, for example, their support sustained Bush through the early primaries: The two groups of movement conservatives threw their backing behind W. only when the alternative was the much more moderate McCain. So it is that less conservative Republicans are the only party faction who always back the winner.
Trump, as unorthodox as he was in many ways, was simply the latest beneficiary of this fact. He lost both groups of movement conservatives to Cruz in state after state throughout the primary season. He won most states, however, because he was the favorite of the somewhat conservatives and crushed Cruz among the 20 percent of GOP voters who still call themselves “moderates.” (John Kasich was Trump’s biggest rival for these voters.) When Cruz appealed to establishment types, as he did in his home state and in Wisconsin, where House speaker Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker endorsed him, he won. But his years of antagonizing their leaders meant that he lacked their support when he needed it most. Cruz carried movement-conservative voters in his final primary in Indiana, but he nevertheless got annihilated, by nearly 17 percentage points, because Trump beat him by 21 percentage points among somewhat conservatives and by a whopping 36 percentage points among moderates and liberals.