Ben Carson has taken a narrow lead nationally in the Republican presidential campaign, dislodging Donald J. Trump from the top spot for the first time in months, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey released on Tuesday.I predicted a few weeks ago that he was going to move into the lead -- as he's already done in Iowa, according to three recent polls. I said that his extreme statements were likely to cause a poll surge, even as the mainstream media called them gaffes. And I told you that the suspension of his campaign for a weeks-long book tour was just campaigning by other means.
Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the choice of 26 percent of Republican primary voters, the poll found, while Mr. Trump now wins support from 22 percent, although the difference lies within the margin of sampling error.
The survey is the first time that Mr. Trump has not led all candidates since The Times and CBS News began measuring presidential preferences at the end of July.
But what happens now? As Donald Trump's lead persisted for months, he struck me as someone who really could hang on for the long haul, because he was giving crazy-base voters a combination of boorish "political incorrectness" and the sense that he had a Master of the Universe's can-do spirit. I think it's possible that he and Carson could go nose to nose all the way to the voting -- as we're told by the Times,
The new poll found that Mr. Trump’s supporters are firmer in their support than Mr. Carson’s. A majority of Trump supporters, 55 percent, said their minds were made up.Whereas, for Carson,
... 80 percent of Carson backers said it was too early to say for sure that they would eventually support him.But can Trump continue to send a tingle up his voters' legs if he's not the alpha dog in the polls? Oliver Willis is right:
all trump does in his stump speech is cite polls, will be funny to see how he explains away losing lead to carson— Oliver Willis (@owillis) October 27, 2015
If Trump is stuck at #2, will he fade? Will he start sounding like -- oh, what's the word I'm looking for? -- a loser?
I know that's what the GOP Establishment hopes for. But that's accompanied by a hope that Carson will also fade -- and I think it's extremely unlikely that GOP voters' desire to toss a bomb into the whole system by voting for a real outsider will fade. The only scenarios I can imagine in which both Trump and Carson fade involve a Fiorina resurgence (though, as I said last month, she's just not the kind of cheerily nasty good ol' gal GOP voters like, i.e., not a Sarah Palin or Joni Ernst) or possibly a Cruz surge (though he's in government, which, to GOP voters, means he has the chance to blow the system up and he's failing -- I know he's just waiting to hoover up Trump's voters after a Trump fade, but the new poll has him languishing at 4%).
I wonder, though, how Carson is going to weather the inevitable opposition-research attacks spoon-fed to various media outlets. Is there anything that can undermine him? I think, to some extent, he'll have some of Trump's Teflon -- it won't matter if there are embarrassing facts in his past, or heterodox opinions. We already know that he used to believe in some gun control, but he's been so pro-gun lately that his fans don't care. We know he was prone to violence as a youth, but only because he's told us that himself. To GOP base voters, there's an "Amazing Grace," "I once was lost but now I'm found" quality to both of these transformations.
I think the Establishment (and Trump) simply might not know how to attack him. Here's Joe Scarborough telling us that, good heavens, the man doesn't know how to run anything!
GOP voters don't care. They think the people who've demonstrated that they can't be president are the professional politicians, whose failure is manifested in the fact that they haven't driven liberal and moderate policies and officeholders from government altogether. GOP voters assume Trump and Carson can't do worse, so they'd probably do better. The one thing Republican voters don't want to hear is that a candidate has honed his chops in government. (I'm talking to you, Jeb -- that's never going to work.)
Trump, I think, is screwing up by talking about Carson's religion -- you're from the Northeast, Donald, so you have no idea how Christian religiosity is interpreted in the heartland.
Carson seems easier to attack than Trump, because he doesn't fight back as hard -- but some voters suddenly want an unabashedly "politically incorrect" candidate who isn't loud, and in order to appeal to those voters it's strategically shrewd for Carson not to hit back (as long as he continues to demonize abortion rights supporters, gun control advocates, and other favorite right-wing Antichrists).
With all this going on, could an Establishment candidate nudge his way into the race? I think only if other Establishment candidates drop out -- in this poll, Marco Rubio is 8 percent and Jeb is at 7. If Jeb were to quit and Rubio were to get get his votes, there's an Establishment candidate at 15 percent. But Jeb is never going to regain his mojo, though he's not going to drop out until after several contests. He's going to pull just enough votes from Rubio (the most-liked Establishmentarian) to keep Rubio from rising. (
So I think this will continue to be a two-man race, and Carson really might have a chance of winning it.