For the second day in a row, we have a poll showing Carson within the margin of error against Trump. Yesterday he trailed by four in a national survey with an MOE of six percent; today he’s four points back in a WBUR poll of New Hampshire with an MOE of 4.9 percent. Only once since late July has Trump polled lower than 24 percent in NH — until today.
Will we have a new frontrunner next week? We may know in as little as 12 hours depending upon how Trump and Carson do at tonight’s debate.
In third place is former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, with 11 percent. She’s ahead of the one-time New Hampshire front-runner, ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who’s at 9 percent with Ohio Gov. John Kasich…
Overwhelmingly, likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary say it’s “very important” that their chosen candidate “says what he or she truly believes.” Eighty-seven percent of poll respondents said that.
And 94 percent of Trump supporters said it’s “very important” their candidate “says what he or she truly believes.”…
Carson, too, benefits from people looking for someone who “says what he or she truly believes.” Ninety-two percent of his supporters said that’s what they want to see in their candidate.
That’s the fascinating thing about the Trump/Carson dynamic: They’re both perceived as unusually honest and authentic despite the fact that their personalities are polar opposites. Carson has an advantage over Trump, though, in his sheer likability. Compare their favorable ratings in this poll — and Fiorina’s:
To put that in perspective for you, Marco Rubio, another guy who always does exceptionally well in this metric, is at a mere 46/25 in NH. What’s driving that primarily, I assume, is that Carson and Fiorina are outsiders while Rubio isn’t. As for Trump, a guy who’s worked wonders in reversing his poor favorables with Republicans over the past three months thanks in part to his hard line on immigration — he’s at 68/28(!) nationally now, per YouGov — 45/40 is unusually poor in New Hampshire. It’s hard to see his lead there being durable if Carson has that wide of an edge on likability, especially if Trump does something stupid tonight to exacerbate the good cop/bad cop vibe with Carson. Randy Barnett sees a landmine waiting for him:
Ben Carson should gently prod Trump tonight. If Trump lashes back–which he will–his upward climb is over. The GOP race will be transformed
— Randy Barnett (@RandyEBarnett) September 16, 2015
He’s overstating the fallout, but Carson and Fiorina might be the only candidates in the field whom it doesn’t pay for Trump to insult. When he’s lashing Scott Walker or especially Jeb Bush, he’s channeling populist contempt for professional politicians. When he’s lashing Carson, he’s hitting a soft-spoken, devoutly Christian doctor who’s more of an outsider to the New York/D.C. corridor than Trump is. It won’t play the same way. Trump versus Fiorina is a different problem for him, partly because he’s already gotten too nasty with her by criticizing her looks and partly because pulling the alpha-male shtick on a woman is apt to come off as boorish, not dominant. And if Fiorina hits back hard, it’ll embarrass Trump in a way that being hit by, say, Rand Paul or Chris Christie won’t. So much of Trumpmania is tied up in his ability to effortlessly push 800-pound establishment gorillas like Bush around. If he gets decked by the one woman in the field, it’ll humiliate him in a way that it wouldn’t be for anyone else. The invincible bully isn’t supposed to get wedgied by a girl. If I were Fiorina, I’d be relishing the chance to scrap with him.
Exit question: If the GOP’s in the grip of a fever for outsider candidates, how come Ted Cruz isn’t doing better? He’s doing better than Rubio, Paul, and Walker, but he’s stuck in single digits in nearly every poll. Is that because the taint of being a senator is simply too terrible (at this point of the campaign, anyway) or is it because Cruz, for all the red meat he plates up about establishment weakness, sounds like the professional politician he is when he speaks? If you’re looking for an authentic outsider, you’re not interested in the guy who comes off every bit as the former lawyer and debate champion that he is.