When do the Candidates Come From? Part 2: When the Supporters Come From

In Part 1, I came up with a system to measure “when” each 2016 Presidential candidate comes from, politically. I looked at the Republican field:


And the Democratic field:


And I found that my simple system can reveal a lot about the state of a party.

When a candidate’s career began matters. Marco Rubio, elected to the Senate in 2010, comes from a different Republican Party than John Kasich, elected to Congress in 1982. However, there are other ways to tell where the candidates stand in relation to their party. For example, you can look at who has endorsed them.

For Republican candidates who competed in Iowa, I looked at endorsers who hold or have held high office. I recorded how long each of them spent in high office, and, for those no longer in office, how long they’ve been retired. I defined “high office” in Part 1 as being in Congress, the Senate, a Cabinet or Cabinet-level position, a governor, or the mayor of a top-100 city.

When you take the average for each candidate’s endorsers, you get this:


(Rick Santorum only has one high office-holding endorser; Ben Carson has none. Doing this for Democrats would be pointless, since Hillary’s locked up pretty much everyone.)

What does this mean? Well, I see a few patterns here:

The Factional Candidates: Cruz, Huckabee, and Paul

All three of these candidates have endorsers who have spent a long time in politics – more than 8 years, on average. But they’re also more likely to currently be in office than any other candidates’ endorsers.

This result surprised me. For one thing, I’d expected Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to have newer endorsers. They are, after all, freshman Senators, and they were supposed to represent a new kind of Republican that came out of the Tea Party wave of 2010. But other than Kasich, Rand Paul’s endorsers have had longer careers than anyone else’s! I was also surprised that Huckabee, the has-been, has endorsers that are the most likely to still be in office.

What this tells me is that the Tea Party wasn’t entirely new. It relied on several GOP factions – libertarians, Buchanan-esque paleoconservatives, the so-called “far-right”, etc. – that have existed for a long time. When a fringe politician gains a foothold in Congress, they will hold onto it for as long as they can. Look at Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul, both of whom spent more than 20 years in Congress. There is no “revolving door” for their kind, only an exit.

Mike Huckabee doesn’t have much in common with Rand Paul, but they both draw from a very narrow, specific segment of the GOP: evangelicals and libertarians, respectively. Cruz draws from a fuller spectrum of Tea Party-esque factions; the party’s mainstream is the only place where he doesn’t have support. In this election’s chaos, fringe factions have higher hopes than ever before.

Revolt of the Old Establishment: Bush and Kasich

I want to talk about Jeb Bush and John Kasich, as boring as that sounds.

Throughout 2015, Jeb Bush led the endorsement race and the money race. But why? It never made any sense. He hasn’t held any kind of office for 9 years. That’s a longer downtime than any President elected since 1852 (and any nominee since 1924). If he thinks his last name isn’t an issue in 2016, then why was it in 2012 and 2008? Why run this year if he didn’t run then? After all, he stopped being governor in 2007. For any typical politician, that leaves 2 Presidential elections before the country moves on to someone else.

Jeb Bush’s very candidacy is a step backwards – or, rather, a declaration of intent to step backwards. He knew he was the wrong guy for 2008 and 2012. But in 2016, the party has no idea what place it’s in. To some people, this is a chance to drag the party back – back to a time when someone like Jeb Bush could be nominated. The man himself complained about having to “lose the primary to win the general.” Yet there’s no proof that Jeb was ever the most electable candidate. His millions of dollars in donations, and scores of endorsements, are more about influencing the Republican Party than winning the general election.

Seriously, just look at that graph. Not only have Bush and Kasich’s endorsers held office for 11+ years (on average), they haven’t even been in politics for 7.5+ years! This is not “the establishment”. It’s the old establishment, terrified that they’re being replaced. In a way, they’re outsiders; they’ve been outside the system for so long that it’s now foreign to them.

Kasich is an interesting case. He’s the only candidate who’s both currently in office and has held office at some point before 2010. Theoretically, he’s in the best position to unite the old establishment with the new. Instead, he’s hired Jon Huntsman’s chief strategist and campaigned against the right-wing of the party. His campaign, like Bush’s, is a revolt against current trends within the GOP.

That’s not to say all these endorsers are in revolt; mostly, they’re just loyal to their old pal. But when Bush and Kasich’s campaigns are so exclusively courting the old establishment over the new, it is hard to perceive them any other way.

Rise of the New Establishment: Rubio and Christie

Some people lump Chris Christie with Kasich and Bush as one of the moderate governors running, and that’s not an inaccurate characterization. But watching Christie at the debates, he seems more in-tune to the current mood and desires of the party than Bush or Kasich do, regardless of his centrism. And, indeed, the above chart confirms my intuition: Christie’s bars look a lot more like Marco Rubio’s than Bush’s or Kasich’s.

Rubio and Christie are both rising newcomers. They’re both “establishment” in the sense that they aren’t factional; they’re broadly appealing to most of the party. But they come from opposite ends of the establishment; Rubio is conservative-establishment, while Christie is moderate-establishment. Beyond the factions – and perhaps the “old establishment” is itself a faction – these two are fighting to be the future of the party’s mainstream.

The Outsiders: Trump and Fiorina

This sample size is tiny: Donald Trump only has three endorsers (Virgil Goode, Sarah Palin, and Scott Brown) that I could use, while Fiorina has six. Still, their bars are strikingly similar. In fact, Trump’s bars are both exactly one year greater than Fiorina’s bars, down to the decimal. Does this mean anything?

Maybe not. It could be a coincidence, given the sample size. Then again, Trump and Fiorina are both businesspeople who’ve never held office. In that sense, they’re pure outsiders. Their endorsers are outsider-y too, I suppose. On average, they’ve held office about as long as Rubio’s or Christie’s endorsers, but they’ve also been out of office for as long as they were ever in. This could mean that they once had a stint in politics, but truly belong on the outside, and were too weird to stay in. This explains Trump’s endorsers, at least. Fiorina has more mainstream views, but maybe the very fact that she’s running for President without ever being elected to office is appealing to a certain kind of outsider.


Right now, the GOP primaries look like a three man race between Cruz, Rubio, and Trump. They represent the various Tea Party factions, the new establishment, and the party’s outside, respectively. I’m interested to see whether Bush or Kasich gain any ground in New Hampshire, because the old establishment is the one GOP group not represented in the top three. If both Bush and Kasich disappoint, the old establishment might have to do some introspection. On the other hand, I can kind of see Kasich doing well enough with moderates to make this a four man race. Or maybe Jeb has just enough money to make a comeback.

By the way, even though Bernie Sanders only has 6 endorsers from high office, they sure look an awful lot like Trump’s:


I thought that Sanders was more the Democrats’ Ted Cruz than the left-wing Donald Trump. Maybe I was wrong. His numbers look less like a fringe factional candidate’s and more like a pure outsider’s. Just like Trump, Sanders only recently became a member of the party he’s running in. And pretty much every Democratic group has lined up behind Hillary, leaving room only for someone entirely outside the party. Now that I think about it, in a more contested election, someone like Elizabeth Warren would be more likely to soak up the far-left endorsements, not a quirky septuagenarian socialist. So maybe Sanders is more like Trump than Cruz.

The question, ultimately, is which group represents its party’s future – and which is simply left over from the past.


4 thoughts on “When do the Candidates Come From? Part 2: When the Supporters Come From

  1. Pingback: The revolt of the public and the rise of Donald Trump | the fifth wave

  2. Pingback: Never Yet Melted » Donald Trump: Symptom of the Failure of Democracy

  3. Pingback: After the elections: The great unraveling | the fifth wave

  4. Pingback: After the elections: The great unraveling | the fifth wave

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