Over the long course of the Republican presidential nomination process in 2015 and 2016, we frequently featured a diagram called “The Republicans’ Five-Ring Circus.” The chart was based on the idea that the GOP essentially consisted of five different constituencies: the establishment wing, the moderate wing, the tea party, libertarians and Christian conservatives. Each presidential candidate’s goal was to dominate his or her constituency or “lane” (for example, Rand Paul would have been looking to win libertarians, or Jeb Bush to win establishment voters), and then unify with the other constituencies to claim the Republican nomination.
Except it didn’t exactly work out that way. Donald Trump, a candidate who didn’t fit neatly into any of the lanes, won instead.
In retrospect, President Trump had a fair amount in common with the tea party movement — we sometimes placed him there in the chart, and sometimes put him outside of the five circles entirely. But he was really running as more of a mix of a tea party populist on issues such as immigration1 and a Northeastern moderate on economic policy. (In Pennsylvania, for instance, Trump did just as well with self-described moderate voters as with conservatives.) Problematically, our five-ring circus chart didn’t even consider the possibility of candidate who overlapped between the moderate wing and the tea party wings of the GOP. Trump also won over a significant number of evangelical voters, even though he had not exactly abided by a “family values” lifestyle, nor did he make a particular priority of issues such as abortion.
So for the 2020 Democratic nomination, we’ve resolved to entertain multiple hypotheses about the contest simultaneously. Perhaps the party will