Top two in new 2016 poll of Iowa Republicans: Mitt Romney and Ben Carson, of course

Compelling and rich, and yet … I can’t shake the feeling that neither the guy who lost the last election by a landslide nor a guy who’s never held office before are going to end up as our next nominee, no matter what useless early polls like this might suggest.

No, just kidding. Obviously these two dudes are the next GOP ticket. MITTMENTUM:

Seventeen percent pick Romney, who says he isn’t running, as their first choice for president; Carson, a conservative author best known for separating conjoined twins, is next at 11 percent. Rand Paul is just behind, with 10 percent…

The poll suggests a tough road in Iowa for other GOP names testing the waters nationally — with 7 percent favoring Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Rick Perry, 6 percent New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and just 2 percent Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker each drew 4 percent. Ohio Governor John Kasich and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal were the top choice for 1 percent, while Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Indiana Governor Mike Pence drew less than 1 percent each.

I’m surprised that Carson would perform that well given how little known he is to voters compared to the rest of the field, but there’s a sound explanation for it. The “Draft Ben Carson for President Committee” has raised boatloads of money for him this year, outstripping even the “Ready for Hillary” crew. They’ve already appointed co-chairs for their operation in Iowa. Word is getting out about Carson among social conservatives and righties whose disgust with Washington has reached the point where they’re willing to look outside the political class for new leadership. Whether Carson can build on that enthusiastic 11 percent once Cruz, Huckabee, and Santorum are in the race is a separate question.

Here are the favorables for the field. Quick, whose numbers jump out?


That 39/45 split for Chris Christie is gruesome, far worse than anyone else’s. Iowans interviewed by Bloomberg for the poll were unsparing:

Interviews with poll respondents show what’s hurting Christie, at least to a degree, is his brusque personality. His frequent tongue lashings, such as referring to political opponents as “numbnuts,” may play well in New Jersey, but it’s repelling some of the more polite Midwestern voters.

“He’s a very pompous individual when it comes to getting in front of the cameras,” said Steven Starnes of Ringsted, Iowa, of Christie. “He’s a show-off, and that’s an automatic turn off for me.”…

“It may or may not be his fault, but that bridge thing doesn’t sit very well with me,” said Phil Metcalf, a retired pharmacist in Decatur County. “I haven’t seen anything that Christie’s done that has looked that great to me.”

Looking at that makes me wonder if Christie might skip Iowa’s socially conservative electorate altogether and proceed directly to New Hampshire. A Twitter pal argues that that’s stupid: With so many right-wing candidates, including a possibly formidable Ben Carson, running and splitting the conservative vote, a centrist with 25 percent could win. That would make sense if Christie is the only centrist in the field and can consolidate the RINO vote behind him — but he won’t be. That was my point in this post earlier today. He’s so vulnerable that there’s simply no way the establishment will allow him to be their champion in Iowa. Either Jeb Bush will run or Marco Rubio or Scott Walker will be elevated to centrist hero; Christie will need to compete with them for votes, which risks a split in the center as well — meaning, in theory, that some conservative with 20 percent of the vote could slip through to victory. Maybe Christie, knowing that, will skip the caucuses altogether. Although, of course, that’s risky too: If Rubio or Walker wins in Iowa with 25 percent thanks to Christie having vacated the field, suddenly they’ll be the centrist favorite headed into New Hampshire. How does Christie win there while having to fend off conservatives on his right and the Iowa winner on his left?

One other jazzy number from those favorables above: At 75/14, Iowans love, love, love Paul Ryan. If centrists drafted him as their Jeb Bush fallback option, he could plausibly win both Iowa and New Hampshire and lock things up early, something no one else in the field (except, interestingly, Rand Paul) seems capable of right now. But I don’t know if Ryan would want to run knowing that he’d have to compete not just against tea partiers but against people like Rubio and Walker who are aiming to fill the same niche Ryan would fill, namely, the young, pleasant go-getter who’s more or less acceptable to both wings of the party. And maybe we’re overestimating Ryan’s chances, notwithstanding his rosy favorable rating. A lot of people might like him, but how many like him more than every other candidate in the field? He’d get a lot of Romney voters, but not all. Would that be enough this time?

Here’s Ben Carson telling Hannity last night that the odds are now at least 50/50 that he runs. In lieu of an exit question, I’ll leave you with this factoid from the Bloomberg crosstabs: When asked whether they think it would help or hurt their party to place a greater emphasis on Christian beliefs, Republicans split 50/40. Democrats split 30/57. Seven years ago they split 30/37.