Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Carson Ascendant!

Today, in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, this happened:
In case it isn't clear, Carson, for the first time, surpassed Donald Trump. The Omnivore will note that in the HuffPo average (which includes more polls) Trump is still ahead--albeit not by all that much. What do we make of this? Well, the first thing to know is that the kind of poll matters--specifically, Trump does worse if it's a human pollster:
This result may seem unsurprising to observers who know that Carson draws his support from evangelicals and older Republicans (less likely to be on the Internet) and Trump draws his support from blue collar workers and younger Republicans (more likely). However, the pollsters know these things, and they adjust their models accordingly. For example, online pollster YouGov knows they will get fewer responses than they should from 85-year-old conservative black lesbian Baptist gun-owning college professors, so they overweight the responses they do get. Even with these corrections, the polls are not aligning.
One theory is that people dealing with a live caller are embarrassed to tell the pollster that they are voting for Donald Trump. Maybe. JPod (John Podhoretz) thinks Carson's rise is a sign that sanity is returning. Carson is attractive, he thinks, and as Trump hits his ceiling, Carson picks up steam as people bleed off.  The Omnivore, however, is not so sure.

In the most recent Fox News poll, second-choice voters for Trump align as follows:
Trump supporters go for Carson (36 percent), Rubio (10 percent), Bush (9 percent), and Cruz (9 percent) as their second-choice picks.
With Dr. Carson getting almost 4x what Rubio gets--and, Rubio, Bush, and Cruz splitting pretty much evenly, it does not appear to The Omnivore that a sudden collapse will dump things into Rubio or Cruz's lap. This is helped, thus far, by "match-up polling" that shows Dr. Carson winning against Hillary Clinton:
These are not "troll polls"--they are legitimate polls from established, well-regarded organizations. If the election were held right now, it seems plausible--even likely--that Ben Carson would beat Hillary Clinton.

However . . . the election isn't going to be held right now. The election is going to be held in more than a year (well, like six days more than a year). During that time, if Carson is the nominee, he will be subjected to withering scrutiny. While it's unlikely that he will get hours of televised hostile cross-examination from Congress, it is likely that every one of his beliefs will be examined in the media (such as his theory that the pyramids were maybe built by Joseph to store grain).

People who are evangelically inclined will love him--but that isn't enough to win a national election by itself and The Omnivore thinks that while Trump has, at least, a successful record in managing large organizations, Carson, at the end of the day, is just not qualified to be president. In other words, right now, Carson's share of the vote might as well be going to Zombie Reagan.

What Does This Mean?

The theory--the current theory--is that Trump gives up, Carson fades, and Jeb quits. This opens the lanes for Rubio vs. Cruz. As The Omnivore has noted, this isn't a bad formulation, all things considered. But it is also has some wishful thinking and an expiration date.

Firstly, Trump's reaction to Carson--going after him--indicates that Trump isn't just in this to humiliate Jeb. The Omnivore assesses that Trump, for real, wants to win--and if Trump and Carson split Iowa and New Hampshire--and Trump looks strong going into Florida, there will be no reason at all for Trump to quit.

Secondly, while Carson, The Omnivore assesses, will fade in both a general election and a Republican primary, Carson's weakness will be in the large (moderate) blue states. The way the GOP has organized things, blue states get fewer delegates than red ones--but not by that much. Carson will do badly in California and New York--but those are populous states--and they have a good amount of delegates. Carson can stay in the race for quite some time before he fades.

The other problem is that so long as the race stays full of people Trump will command around 30% of the vote. This is exacerbated by the polling showing that larger groups of the GOP electorate are seeing Trump as a viable winner: that right there is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So long as Trump doesn't quit, it seems unlikely that his voters will peel off: anyone supporting Trump right now won't have any reason to switch.

Finally, there's Jeb. Theory 1 is that Jeb won't quit because it'd kill--maybe literally--his dad (who is all fired up about Jeb running). Theory 2 is that Jeb, like Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal, expects Trump to take a dive some time before Iowa--or maybe right after New Hampshire. This is seen in the theory that Jeb now says he'll walk through glass to win NH: he's made it a must-win.

Right now Trump is pulling 26.4% in NH and Jeb is at 7.5%. If this persists until, say January, Jeb has a really big problem: if he drops out, it seems unlikely that Rubio takes 1st place (Jeb + Rubio currently equal Carson at 15%). If he stays in, maybe he has a chance at an upset (NH is not winner-take-all, so Jeb can get something).

So if everyone stays in through NH, the odds are that Trump's lion's share holds through the first two votes--at which point Trump and Carson both have some significant delegates--and no reason to quit! On the other hand, if Jeb dropped out now, Trump would probably suffer and Rubio would probably gain--and that would, in fact, be good for the party.

But it doesn't seem likely.

What's The End Game?

It's equally foolish to think that nothing will change as to think that everything will change. Between now and February 2016 there's a lot of time and a good deal more drama to play out. Something will break--it is likely several candidates will drop--and it seems plausible that as Trump and Carson tussle for the lead, Cruz and Rubio will rise--perhaps not to the top--but to striking distance?

We don't know what, exactly will happen--it's just not predictable and trend-lines don't show the future . . . only the past. If The Omnivore had to guess, his guess is that Carson and Trump will hang on to their appeal despite repeated attacks--and that what the game looks like around Christmas is similar to how it looks today (maybe with Carson on top--and Bush either gone or floundering). That is a change--but it isn't a game change.

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