Judging by the early numbers, the 2016 Republican presidential primaries will be another class and culture war, pitting the GOP’s Sam’s Club base against the Republican country club elite. Think tea party vs. garden party. The fissures of education, income, region, and religion that took their collective toll on Mitt Romney will again weigh heavily on the battle for the Republican nomination. Age also looms as a wildcard, with a generational divide further shaping the contours of the contest.

With few exceptions, the Republican establishment prevails over its base. Yet, 2016 may be different, as the GOP becomes ever more evangelical, Southern, blue collar, and alienated. True, the road and rules to the convention favor the Republican machinery, but even so, the rank and file must buy in if the plans of the party’s elite are to work as imagined.

With less than a year and a half until Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primaries, the Republican field is tightly bunched, with no one having declared his candidacy but lots of folks looking. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Texas Governor Rick Perry are all in contention. Based on numbers, and numbers alone, a Christie-Huckabee or Huckabee-Christie ticket would capture the bulk of the party’s demographics. How viable it would be and how well it would play is a different story.

Christie, Huckabee, Paul, and Perry are in the hunt because they each attract and repel particular segments of the Republican electorate. Christie and Huckabee run best with the 50-and-over crowd, while Paul and Perry are strongest with voters under the age of 50. Yes, Paul draws the ire of Dick Cheney, Christie, and Perry over Iraq and national security--and the affection of Corey Booker over prison policy–but it’s the potential Christie and Huckabee split that speaks most about just who is a Republican these days.

Christie and Huckabee call upon opposite ends of the income and education spectrum to boost their potential runs, and that creates a manageable flashpoint. Christie’s strength lies with voters who attended college, while Huckabee’s base is decidedly working class. Huckabee, a minister, is overtly religious in his appeal. Christie, who places a premium on the fact that he was cool in high school, sounds conservative memes without invoking the Divine. In his favor, Christie coasted to reelection, unlike Romney, who declined to run for a second term in Massachusetts when confronted by less than enthusiastic polls. 

Until he got into trouble over Bridgegate, Christie was the darling of the GOP’s Wall Street donor base. Even after the subpoenas started flying, he remained gung-ho on entitlement reform. Christie also opposed brick-and-mortar construction projects, like a badly needed tunnel between New York and New Jersey, and declined to press an appeal of a New Jersey court ruling that had legalized same-sex marriage in New Jersey, after having vetoed a bill that would have achieved the same result.

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