Ben Carson Takes National Lead Over Trump at Just the Right Time

The debate is tomorrow night, and popcorn futures are exploding.
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The debate is tomorrow night, and popcorn futures are exploding.
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It was nearly two months ago when Ben Carson first took a lead in Iowa over Donald Trump, a development that resulted in some decidedly low-frequency feuding between the two candidates. That dynamic was largely absent from the ensuing Republican debate, however, with Trump more interested in fending off attacks from others.

Over the past week or so, things escalated when Carson began turning in some truly scary numbers in Iowa, prompting Trump to attack Carson over his energy level and religion. On Tuesday, the eve of the next Republican presidential debate, Carson overtook Trump for the first time on a national poll:

Ben Carson has surpassed Donald Trump and now narrowly leads the Republican field in the race for the nomination in the latest national CBS News/New York Times Poll.

Twenty-six percent of Republican primary voters back Carson, giving him a four-point edge over Trump (22 percent). Support for Carson has quadrupled since August.

The rest of the Republican presidential candidates lag far behind in single digits. Marco Rubio is now in third place (eight percent), followed by Jeb Bush (seven percent) and Carly Fiorina (seven percent). All other candidates are at four percent or lower.

It's obviously just one poll, and one which had Carson much closer to Trump than other polls did the last time it was taken, but coming when it does, this CBS News/New York Times poll could have a seismic effect on the race.

We won't have to wait long to find out, but it seems likely that Trump will go after Carson hard Wednesday night, which may settle the question of where wingnut voters go when mommy and daddy are fighting. If Trump can't peel away some of Carson's support, he could settle in under a firm 20% ceiling. If Carson's surge is more of a test-drive, then Trump maybe able to blunt that momentum by exposing Carson's vulnerability in a fight. If they're smart, the other candidates will stay off the street and let these two gun each other down.

The greatest beneficiary here, though, might be Marco Rubio. If he's smart, Rubio will let Trump and Carson trade cannon fire, while he sails through looking pretty. Jeb Bush has now shot more holes in his own feet than a holster test dummy, so Rubio is the establishment candidate best positioned to take advantage of a bloody fight between the frontrunners.