Carson’s Loss Is Trump’s And Cruz’ Gain–And the GOP Establishment’s Doom

Since my last post on the GOP presidential race two weeks ago, my longstanding prediction that the Republican establishment would lose the election continues to be panning out as we head into a holiday season in which poll numbers traditionally fail to shift.

The biggest change in the past few weeks is that Ben Carson’s decline has turned into a disastrous and likely irreversible drop. For a brief period Carson was the ostensible leader in the GOP race; at worst he sat in a comfortable second place for a long time. Then a few weeks ago he was in third place with between 11 and 15 points of support. But now three of the last four national polls have shown Carson back in fourth place with 6 to 9 percentage points, which places him perilously near Jeb Bush territory.

Carson’s mild-mannered demeanor, his religious conservative rhetoric and appeal among women Republican voters led some to speculate that his votes might shift either to an evangelical candidate like Mike Huckabee or a seemingly gentler figure like Rubio. But that has largely not been the case. Per recent polling, it appears that Carson’s drop has been mostly Ted Cruz’ gain, with some smaller shift back to Trump as well.

The latest Fox News poll gives Trump a staggering 39 points, more than doubling up Ted Cruz’ 18 points and establishment favorite Rubio trailing with a desperate 11 points of support. Jeb Bush manages only a paltry 3 points despite having far outspent the other candidates. PPP’s latest offering similarly shows Trump ahead with 34 points to Cruz’ 18 and Rubio’s 13. ABC News/Washington Post has Trump ahead of Cruz 38 to 15. And Monmouth shows Trump crushing all comers 41-14-10-9.

The big storyline for Republicans lately is the battle between the establishment and Ted Cruz, who is poised to pick up the pieces if Trump really does collapse between now and the actual vote. As I have often argued in the past, that predicted Trump decline is unlikely and growing unlikelier with every week that he continues to dominate the landscape.

But regardless of Trump’s fortunes, it should be crystal clear that the majority GOP voters aren’t simply enamored with the idea of change and a non-politician. They’re furious at the establishment and not about to accept an establishment candidate. Most of them are voting for Trump. The ones who aren’t doing so for various reasons have been backing Carson until recently, but have now shifted either back to Trump or over to Ted Cruz.

It must be noted that unlike Trump or Carson, Ted Cruz is a politician. Like Rubio, Cruz is a sitting Senator. If the argument is that GOP voters are expressing their anger today by backing non-traditional candidates but will ultimately come round to a more traditional elected official, it seems that that official is likely to be the most hated Senator on Capitol Hill. The GOP protest vote isn’t against government officials–it’s directly against the GOP establishment and its backers.

There’s no reason to believe that Rubio or Bush will be able to pull out a victory because there are simply too many voters who are voting for anyone but those two. The average of the polls shows that the cumulative Trump/Cruz/Carson vote is 61.4%, and it doesn’t appear likely that those voters will move away from one of those three camps. Rubio’s only potential path to victory would be for every single other GOP candidate to drop out of the race, and pray that all of Carly Fiorina’s and Rand Paul’s and Mike Huckabee’s voters all flock to him. A very unlikely scenario at best.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.