Second Iowa poll in two days shows Trump trailing Ben Carson, this time by nine points

If you’re a Trump fan, you can reassure yourself in one of three ways. One: Two bad polls may be, shall we say, “concerning,” but it really takes three for a legit trend. Reserve all judgment until the next Iowa poll. Fair enough, but the numbers in today’s Des Moines Register poll are almost exactly the same as the numbers Quinnipiac got yesterday. The two are within a single point of each other on every candidate in the field except Rubio, who’s at 13 percent in Quinnipiac and nine percent in DMR. DMR’s pollster, Ann Selzer, is also famous for her record of accuracy in polling Iowa. If she and Quinnipiac both blew it here, that would be some miss.

Two: Even if Trump’s down now, he’ll come back. That’s possible, especially with the third GOP debate scheduled for Wednesday. Trump could do well, Carson could stumble on an easy question, and suddenly it’s Trump in the lead again. Of course, if it’s Trump who stumbles and Carson who does well, Carson’s lead could actually widen. Or it could be Cruz or Rubio, both of whom are now within 10 points of Trump in the state and are unfailingly good onstage, who do well and start threatening him there for second place. The big takeaway from yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll is that Trump’s a bad fit for Iowa Republicans given what they value most in a candidate — someone who’s in sync with them on values, whom they see as honest and trustworthy, a person of unimpeachable integrity. Both in that data and in today’s DMR survey, Carson’s favorable ratings are off the charts, so much so that he’d have to screw up awfully badly on Wednesday night to put a dent in them.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is the favorite choice for 28 percent — 9 percentage points ahead of Trump’s 19 percent…

“The outsiders are still beating the insiders, of course, but that’s not what is interesting,” Castellanos said. “What’s interesting is that the moral outsider (Carson) is whipping the businessman-not-politician-outsider (Trump) and crushing the hope-and-change insiders (Bush and Rubio).”…

Cruz has a solid favorable rating: 61 percent view him positively, 26 percent negatively. But about twice as many likely caucusgoers have very favorable feelings about Carson compared with Cruz (53 percent to 28 percent), even though Cruz is second-highest in the field on that passion measure…

Carson has a different superpower: His statements that he would be guided by his faith in God are an attractive attribute for 89 percent of likely caucusgoers. That’s topped only by the 96 percent who find his perceived common sense attractive.

Carson’s overall favorable rating is 84/12, more than 20 points better than Cruz and 25 points better than Trump. Not only does he lead the race overall, he leads Trump among tea partiers 33/17 and among evangelicals 33/18. One notable weakness in his numbers is that his support is softer than Trump’s, with just 15 percent of his voters saying they’re committed to him versus 32 percent of Trump’s supporters who say so about Trump. Which makes sense: Trump is sui generis as a candidate but Carson is more generic in the sense that committed Christian populists always do well in Iowa. Carson’s lead thus could well disintegrate as his voters come to decide they prefer someone else in that niche … but Trump’s not in that niche. If Carson fans are going anywhere, they’re probably going to the committed Christian populist Cruz. In fact, when DMR asked Iowa Republicans whom they’d most like to see drop out of the race, Trump was the most common response at 25 percent. (Among those 44 or younger, it was 36 percent.) Is second or even third place a good enough finish for him in Iowa?

A few more numbers for you, in honor of the fact that he’s almost certainly going to launch a next-level barrage of insults at Carson now:


Ripping on Iowa’s new heartthrob could damage Trump more than it damages Carson based on this data. (Sidenote: Er, why is Jeb Bush the only candidate being tested on amnesty here? Iowans do realize that the otherwise very popular Marco Rubio would go even further than Jeb would by creating a path to citizenship for illegals, no? If not, they’ll be finding out soon.)

That brings us to the third (and wisest) consolation for Trump supporters: C’mon, it’s only Iowa. If he loses the state, so what? Huckabee and Santorum won in 2008 and 2012, respectively. How’d that work out in winning them the nomination? Trump was indeed always a bad fit for the GOP electorate there but he’s a much better fit for maverick-loving New Hampshire, where his numbers are still strong. The worst-case scenario at the moment is that he’s top three in Iowa and then wins the first primary in the race, fueling a “Trump comeback!” narrative in the media that’ll take him into South Carolina. Nothing to worry about yet. I agree with that analysis — with the caveat that if Trump gets a bad poll or two in New Hampshire after the debate, the media’s going to turn on a dime from the “Trump could actually win this thing!” blather of the past week to “the great Trump collapse is finally here!” blather they’ve been waiting to write all along. And that’s dangerous for Trump insofar as bad polls cause a problem for him that no other candidate really worries about: They suggest that he’s vulnerable. Donald Trump, per his own carefully crafted image, is never vulnerable in any way. He doesn’t just win, he dominates. Even in Iowa — until now.

Exit question: If Trump’s still winning all of the national polls, how come he’s suddenly losing in Iowa? Sean Trende offers a theory, which, if true, bodes badly for Trump in other early states as the campaign gets going there.