Ben Carson hasn’t had a particularly good week dealing with the media, particularly as the nation’s focus shifts back more firmly to foreign policy in the wake of the Paris attacks. Some of his supposed “gaffes” such as the clickbait rabid dog comment were more offensive to the media than they probably are to his base. But his strange and often confusing answers on foreign policy questions – not just on ISIS and what’s going on in France but around the rest of Europe and Asia – seem to be taking a toll. It’s difficult to measure at this point on such a fine grain question, but Politico’s insider survey is turning up town hall attendees and others who are supportive of Carson but who are now saying things like, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Nobody seems to like him any less or doubt his sincerity, but this latest turn of events may be showing one of his weakest points in this race. Even in Iowa it just feels like there’s been some erosion.
Indeed, they said the terrorist attacks have reordered the candidates in their mind, lifting Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio and, for many, making Carson an afterthought.
“He’s a great guy, he’s fun to listen to, but I didn’t hear anything substantive,” said Alan Hilgerson, a Des Moines-based physician who said national security is an “extremely high” priority for him as he considers the 2016 contenders vying for Iowa. Of Carson, he continued, “I don’t know that I’d want him as my president.”
Worse yet for Carson, at the Family Leader Forum organized by social-conservative icon Bob Vander Plaats, voters said the more they thought about Carson’s foreign policy credentials, the less comfortable they were with him.
At various events around the state, other observers are running into the same thing. McKay Coppins reports from a candidate forum in Des Moines with a similar result.
Asked which candidate most impressed her after the forum concluded, Jan Swinton — who traveled two hours from the southern Iowa town of Fairfield to see the contenders live — enthusiastically rattled off the names of several Republicans. She was dazzled by Marco Rubio’s confident command of the issues; attracted by Carly Fiorina’s eloquence; struck by Ted Cruz’s nerve.
What about Carson?
Swinton emitted a reluctant chuckle, and then sighed wistfully. “I really like Ben,” she said. “He’s really smart.” She thought for a moment, and then offered up another virtue. “If you read his stuff, it’s the best stuff.” But? “When you see him in person he just doesn’t bring it on. I don’t think he’s gonna be quick enough and firm enough … He’s a nice guy, but I don’t know if he can be president.”
There’s very little to go on in terms of the polling. Nobody of national scope has polled Iowa since the November 3rd CNN/ORC numbers. The poll of polls average still has him behind Trump, but not by all that much. Still, NBC put out a new post-attack set of national numbers Friday night which may be mirrored to a certain extent in Iowa, at least in terms of momentum. And those numbers don’t look good for Carson, while Cruz and Rubio seem to be benefiting the most.
In the Republican primary race, the newest NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll shows Donald Trump has the frontrunner spot to himself, with 28% support among Republican and independent voters who lean Republican. Support for Ben Carson, who was tied with Trump in last month’s online poll, has fallen off by 8 points and the former neurosurgeon is now tied with Ted Cruz at 18%. Trailing not too far behind is Marco Rubio, at 11%. The next tier of candidates has a lot of catching up to do, with Jeb Bush at 4% and Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina each with 3%.
The only other fresh numbers we have were still pre-Paris, from the period ending November 16th. It’s done by Morning Consult, too, so I’m not sure how much weight to throw it. Still, they had Trump at 28 and Carson down to 17.
I’m not in the camp of those who want to call the neurosurgeon “incredibly dumb” or anything approaching it, but the more I hear him talk about foreign policy the less I’m finding him looking terribly presidential. And at this moment in time people seem to be very, very concerned about ISIS, protecting the nation and all of the machinery that entails. Iowa’s evangelicals clearly love Ben Carson, but that’s the same voting block which tends to flock toward strength when it comes to questions of war and peace or countering terrorism. We’ll need a good set of data from a reliable source taken this week or next to be sure but I won’t be terribly shocked if Iowa follows the latest national numbers we’re seeing and Carson sinks downward a bit.
Now for the sixty-four dollar question: if the bloom is truly coming off of Carson’s rose, where do his supporters go? There was definitely one school of thought which said that they would migrate to the other big, complete outsider in the race. That was the worst case scenario for the establishment because if Trump gathered up Carson’s flock we could pretty much just move to the convention now and nominate The Donald. But if the early NBC figures provide any sort of a hint, Carson sinking may actually wind up benefiting Ted Cruz a lot more. That would make for an interesting holiday break heading into the final stretch in January before voting begins.