This post was written Jake Barr, '16, Northeast Regional Chair for Mock Con 2016.
Sometime after the Fox News Republican Presidential Primary Debate I called my Bronx-born Grandpa to update him on my latest DC intern escapades. I went through my normal spiel; explaining the Washington ecosystem, the lobbying firm, and the role I played. At some point he asked me: “what is your eventual goal in DC”? I quipped that I have no higher aspiration than smoking a pack of Reds with Johnny Boehner on the Speaker’s Balcony. Not understanding the jest, my Grandfather replied, “Why would you want hang out with that crook?” When I pressed for an explanation of his apparent disdain, he described his current all-encompassing disillusionment with the Washington political establishment, which then vaulted us into a full-on political discussion. After a while of trading our social and economic views my Grandpa told me he had to go, but before he did I asked him who he thought won the Republican primary debate. He confidently exclaimed, “Definitely Donald Trump, I like the way he tells it like it is. And this Carson guy isn’t too bad either.”
After our conversation I kept thinking that my Grandfather is no radical, he proudly voted for Obama in 2008, why would he be fond of Trump? Like my Grandpa, Northeastern Republican primary voters are also not radical (in the past three Republican primaries they have either voted for Bush, McCain or Romney), but Trump continues to lead in Northeastern poll, often by double digits. I believe this support is a result of a palpable contempt among Republican primary voters for poll-driven, focus group manufactured campaign rhetoric. Many yearn for an unscripted “straight shooter,” which manifests itself in support of Trump and other surging non-politicians, namely Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson.
I am not convinced that this aforementioned style-over-substance approach is sustainable, especially in Northeastern states. Northeastern Republican primary voters have historically judged potential candidates on their pro-business policies and more liberal social stances. They have also judged recent gubernatorial candidates through this lens. New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts all elected center-right business conservatives to governorship in the last election cycle, which further suggests there is room for a candidate to fill that void. John Kasich, who has recently surged in NH polls, is a good example of a candidate leveraging his executive pro-business leadership, as a successful Ohio Governor, to garner support among policy-oriented pro-business primary voters, while also espousing what he calls “compassionate conservatism” that connects with Northeastern Republicans who don’t reflexively align with social conservatism.
The candidate that is able to find the sweet spot between substantive and charismatic, wonky and plain speaking will achieve success in the Northeast. Jeb Bush, the hitherto Northeastern frontrunner until Trump’s meteoric rise, is attempting to be this “just right” candidate, but so far has come off as nerdy and somnolent. A plentitude of other candidates are also searching for this middle ground. The successful primary candidate for the Northeast will be able to capture the support of those who want straightforward, passionate rhetoric, but is able to fill that rhetoric with workable pro-business policies, not just bombast. This candidate will take the Northeastern states nomination. Who that will be remains a mystery.