They’re both basically toast.
The few polls that have trickled out since the last Republican debate have shown some softening of support for the good doctor, but as long as Ben Carson is doing well in Iowa, there’s no real reason to panic. Within the past month, Carson has opened up leads over Donald Trump as wide as 14 points in the state, while dancing around the national lead. The surest sign that Carson’s fade might show some durability came Sunday morning with the release of a CBS News poll that shows Carson not only falling well behind Trump in Iowa, but also now trailing Senator Ted Cruz:
Donald Trump has returned to the lead in Iowa while Ted Cruz has now surged past Ben Carson into second place. Carson has slipped from a first-place tie into third.
While Iowa’s Republicans generally feel Trump is ready to be commander-in-chief, Cruz scores even better on this measure, boosted by support from very conservative and Tea Party Iowans who feel he is ready to assume the post. That’s more than say so about Trump, Carson, Rubio and Jeb Bush.
Carson’s swoon is only mysterious because the Republican base is so bemusingly immune to what a normal person would see as Carson’s weaknesses, like the endless stream of weird and crazy shit that trips from his quirkily blinking face, or the dubious claims he makes, or the way he lost his shit on reporters two weeks ago, or his demonstrable lack of knowledge or qualification about anything remotely related to governing. Could it be the hammering that Trump has been giving him, even not-comparing Carson to a child molester?
The conventional wisdom will be that Ted Cruz (who gained almost exactly what Carson lost in that poll) is the reason for Carson’s decline, that his “strong” debate performance turned Carson voters. I could see that sort of thing causing a smaller, shorter-term shift, but I think Carson’s big problem, the one that will continue to cause his orbit to decay, is the reemergence of terrorism as a major issue in the campaign by virtue of the Paris attacks. Don’t get me wrong, Carson says all the right crazy, stupid things they want to hear, has the flimsy understanding of foreign policy that they crave, but he lacks the volume to reassure them. He doesn’t say his crazy loud enough to make them feel safe.
That’s a big problem for Carson, because he’s not going to get any louder, and Republicans aren’t going to get any less scared. Ann Coulter is half-right, the attacks definitely helped Donald Trump, but they also helped Hillary Clinton. As much as many liberals like to deride her as a “neocon” or worse, Hillary has the kind of credibility as a hawk that will appeal to independent voters, without the unhinged lunacy of a Trump. If pouty Sanders voters can get over it, Hillary is in better shape than ever to take the White House, and more importantly, keep it in Democratic hands.