Who’s Hot: Ben Carson, the Leading Un-Trump

Photo credit: Joshua Pinho
Photo credit: Joshua Pinho

The latest CNN national survey puts Donald Trump in the lead among Republicans with 32 percent; Carson second with 19 percent.  But Carson has gained more since the August CNN poll: 10 percent to Trump’s 8 percent.  No other candidate was up significantly, and Rubio, Bush, Walker, Kasich, and Paul have lost ground.  Team Governor (the sum of support for all of the governors in the race) is down to one-quarter support, while Team Outsider is up over half.  Trump and Carson are also the leading second choice candidates, which is interesting; it means they both have more upside potential.

So Carson and Trump are pulling away from the pack, and Carson is emerging as the Un-Trump, or at least as Trump-Very-Lite.  Carson is the clear second choice of Iowa Republicans and within spitting distance of Trump there; in New Hampshire, he shares second place with John Kasich.

Watching Donald Trump’s campaign is like watching a drunk walking a tightrope without a net.  There is a certain morbid fascination waiting for the inevitable misstep.  So far, Trump has recovered from each swoon.  But the question of who will emerge as the alternative to Trump if the fall comes is a key variable in this race, and right now that person is Ben Carson.

Unclear is what Ben Carson represents as a candidate.  The first word that comes to mind to describe him is “meek.”  He holds the microphone with both hands close to his mouth and speaks in a very subdued voice.  There was this week the hint of a Carson attack on Trump, but that turned out to be a false alarm (although the Donald pounced anyway).  Carson defies the expectation that the Republican electorate is auditioning for an anti-Hillary attack dog.  Carson v. Sanders?  What that would lack in sheer entertainment value, it might make up for in seriousness.

Not Hot:  Bobby Jindal, for his over-the-top attack on Donald Trump.

Bobby Jindal is in a race to the bottom with Jeb Bush, who last week also released a silly attack on Trump.  First, in a speech yesterday at the National Press Club, Jindal assumed the role of clinical psychologist, and diagnosed Trump as a narcissist.  Here’s what he said:

  • Donald Trump is shallow. Has no understanding of policy.
  • Donald Trump is for Donald Trump.
  • Donald Trump is a narcissist and an egomaniac.
  • Like all narcissists, Donald Trump is insecure and weak, and afraid of being exposed.
  • Donald Trump is not a serious person.
  • Nominating Donald Trump is a certain way for us to miss our opportunity to make America Great Again.

The Donald’s response: “Bobby Who?”  The odd thing about attacking Donald Trump as a narcissist is that Jindal is himself exhibiting narcissistic behavior: “Stop paying attention to him, pay attention to me.”  And turning the political conversation away from what the voters what to talk about (which clearly is not Trump’s state-of-mind) in favor of what you want to talk about is itself a kind of narcissism–and politically dangerous.  If Jindal wants to position himself as the alternative to Trump, maybe he should be attacking Carson.

His speech was accompanied by this weird video using Charlie Sheen to discredit Trump:

Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.