Lots of chirping about this on social media even though it’s an online poll and appears to be a survey of adults, not likely voters. But what the heck, I’ll blog it. The trend, at least, is interesting.
On November 4, this same Ipsos/Reuters poll of adults had it Trump 29, Carson 19, Bush/Rubio 10. A week later, in a poll that included a day of surveys after the fourth Republican debate, it was Trump 33, Carson 17, Cruz/Rubio 10. A week further on, after Paris, it’s Trump 37, Carson 14, Rubio 11. Trump is up at eight points in two weeks while Carson is down five; everyone else is more or less the same. Here’s more evidence after yesterday’s poll in New Hampshire that Trump is gaining at Carson’s expense after the big terror attack because he’s the aggressive strongman while Carson’s the soft-spoken healer. “You have voters who are saying loudly and clearly that they want a strong leader to run our country,” said Trump’s campaign manager, “and that leader is Mr. Trump.” Pretty sure the first part of that is right, if not necessarily the second.
Although … what if the second part’s true too? The GOP establishment has a big problem in New Hampshire that’s getting bigger, writes Nate Cohn:
If a candidate acceptable to the party can’t win New Hampshire or Iowa, the G.O.P. will face a bleak choice: undertake the daunting and expensive task of mounting a come-from-behind effort, or grudgingly acquiesce to a candidate it really doesn’t want, like Ted Cruz, but who may be better than someone it can never accept, like Mr. Trump…
But the G.O.P. establishment then was not in anywhere near the danger it is now. This year, the “outsider” candidates, like Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz and Ben Carson, possess as much organizational, financial and personal strength as the establishment candidates, or maybe more. This year’s schedule affords the party few opportunities to make a comeback: The contests after Iowa and New Hampshire — the Nevada caucuses, South Carolina and the predominantly Southern states on Super Tuesday — are all relatively favorable to conservatives. This year’s establishment candidates have shown far less strength, by any measure, than Mr. Dole or George H.W. Bush, who had the resources, name recognition and party backing to survive early setbacks…
All of this creates a lot of danger for the party’s establishment. Its worst-case outcome is what the polls are already showing: a clear win for an unacceptable candidate, and the other candidates so evenly split and so far behind that the contest fails to clarify which candidate the establishment should coalesce behind.
The significance of the most recent polls is that, contra what Jeb Bush tells you about Trump beginning to fade from the race circa mid-December, there’s really no reason to think anymore that he’s going to slip. He’s weathered four debates, various supposed “gaffes,” a Ben Carson surge, and now a major development on foreign policy and he’s still pretty reliably pulling 25 percent or so of likely voters in many polls. The attack ads against him are still to come, but unless Trump decides to cheap out on his fans and not lay down some serious money for ads of his own, he should have plenty of ammo himself. Which raises the question: Who among his competition is in the toughest spot now that it looks like Trump’s in this for the long haul? The obvious answer is Carson because it means he can’t monopolize the “outsider” vote, but Carson has always seemed like a longer shot for the nomination than Trump in the first place. Trump’s selling a totally different political product than the rest of the field. You can imagine Cruz or Rubio neutralizing Carson’s advantage with evangelicals, but it’s hard to imagine anyone neutralizing Trump’s advantage among his own fans.
Which means … it’s Cruz who’s in the biggest trouble, right? After all, Cruz has been expecting since day one that Trump will eventually flame out and his voters will switch to Cruz, the “outsider” who’s actually fought the establishment in Washington. The more durable Trump looks, the farther out the window that plan goes. Then again, though, Cruz doesn’t really need to pass Trump right now; the guy he needs to pass is Carson, making him the clear frontrunner in Iowa and the Christian conservative champion in the race overall. (Interestingly, it’s been two weeks since we’ve seen a new poll out of Iowa. I wonder what’s going on there among voters right now.) If Carson bleeds 10 percent to Cruz, it’s Cruz who’ll be in the low 20s, not far behind Trump and well positioned to clean up in the early states if he comes through in Iowa.
The real loser in all this, then, is probably Rubio. Rubio wants to sell himself as the most bad-ass (yet eloquent and thoughtful!) hawk in the field, but Trump’s bigfooting him in that role. Meanwhile, unlike Cruz, there’s no obvious early state for him to win if Trump continues to ride high. New Hampshire is probably his best bet but Trump leads consistently there. So Cruz or Carson will win Iowa, Trump will NH, and then either Trump or the Iowa winner will win South Carolina. Rubio might — might — win his home state of Florida, but that’ll be dismissed by the media on grounds of home-field advantage. Rubio’s best hope is that the media will be so disgusted with Trump that if he finishes second in New Hampshire, they’ll treat him as the de facto “winner” among “serious” Republican voters, which maybe gives him a shot to win South Carolina. The larger point, though, is that there’s every reason to think that both Trump and Cruz will be around for a long while, which makes things awfully complicated for Rubio. Unless he can find a plurality in the party of not-Trump and not-Cruz voters, we really might have a three-way race all the way to the convention. And then it’s Mitt Romney time.