Who’s Hot? Ted Cruz; Who’s Not: “Gentle Ben” Carson

The Republican mating ritual is getting down to brass tacks: policy substance is of increasing importance, and the two candidates whose persona is most about substance are Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina.

The field continues its winnowing, now down essentially to four candidates: Trump, Carson (for the moment), Rubio and Cruz (though Fiorina is capable of a come-back). Cruz is lapping everyone other than Carson in fundraising, having had a great 3rd quarter and a strong post-debate bounce. He has released a tax plan which is superficially attractive (whether or not businesses get to deduct wages will determine its actual stimulative effect and political appeal). But Cruz also gets that the narrative on why economic growth is so anemic must include over-regulation and the Fed’s monetary manipulation. He’s getting close to the whole package on economic policy.

Plus Cruz has all along been the choice of those voters looking for a fighter, the articulate candidate most willing and best able to tear into the presumptive Democratic candidate. Cruz is now certain – barring unforeseen developments (which means the possibility I am wrong) – to finish among the top three in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Say it Ain’t so, Ben

No candidate in the Republican field is less able to withstand the charge of biographical enhancement than Ben Carson. His political persona is entirely about character, trust, faith, I’m-not-like-the-others-ness. What compels a man of such objective accomplishment to dissemble about being accepted to West Point? Does he think he hasn’t done enough in his life? Does he hold his manhood cheap for not having served in the military? Whatever; the Carson appeal was, from a practical perspective, mysterious enough to begin with; now it is at risk of evaporating.

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