A CBS/ New York Times poll released on Tuesday found former surgeon and fetal tissue researcher Ben Carson pulling four points ahead of Donald Trump in the national race for the Republican presidential nomination.
By any reasonable standard, Carson is nuts. But that appears to be a feature rather than a bug with Republican primary voters. A poll of Iowa Republicans released by Bloomberg News and the Des Moines Register last week found that 81 percent thought that his statement that Obamacare was the worst thing since slavery — worse than the ebola, New Coke and even the Holocaust! — made him more “attractive” in their eyes. Seventy-one percent said the same of his attributing Hitler’s success to gun control. (Fact-check: Hitler significantly loosened Weimar-era limits on private gun ownership. He did bar Jews from owning them, but only in 1938, when the Nazi war machine was poised to roll over actual armies bristling with heavy weapons.) And nearly three-quarters found his belief that Americans shouldn’t accept a Muslim in the White House super-attractive. The poll only tested a small fraction of the wacky things Ben Carson has said out loud.
Political reporters were somewhat dumbfounded when Carson “tripled-down” on his Muslim smear. But according to his campaign, the “controversy” — which wasn’t terribly controversial in Republican circles, where just one in seven hold a favorable view if Islam — led to a flood of donations for the soft-spoken ideologue. Overall, Carson’s campaign raised almost $21 million dollars over the past three months—top among Republicans, and 50 percent more than Jeb! Bush—and 60 percent of that money came from small donors.
So the Republicans’ Idiocracy primary continues. It remains to be seen whether the latest poll is an outlier or if Donald Trump, the carnival barker who’s clearly vying to play the role of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in this drama — porn star and five-time ultimate smackdown wrestling champion! — retains his months-long lead. Trump’s still well ahead in the polling averages.
Meanwhile, Jeb! Bush, whose Super PAC has raised more money from fat-cats than anyone else but is cutting staff because only billionaires seem to like him, is inconsolable. This week, he threatened to take his ball and go home, claiming that he has other, “really cool stuff” he could be doing, which might be the biggest lie of his campaign. He hasn’t led in any of the polls tracked by the Huffington Poll since June.
This wasn’t the way this primary was supposed to shake out. Jeb! followed the tried-and-true Republican strategy of building a campaign juggernaut with lots of staff and a massive war chest, and after allowing the tea partiers some time to blow off steam, he was supposed to be emerging as the safe bet to beat the Democratic nominee by now. It could still happen, but it seems less likely every day. A poll released on Tuesday found that GOP primary voters think Donald Trump is the best bet to win next November, so it’s hard to see how the usual electability arguments are going to hurt him.
All of this has the “establishment” — or at least people who understand what the debt limit is — completely flummoxed. As Chris Cilliza put it in The Washington Post, “The dirty little secret in Republican politics these days is that the longtime pillars of the party — politicians and ex-politicians, major donors and the consultant class — are further removed from the views of the GOP base than at any time in modern memory. They simply do not understand what the heck is happening within and to their party.”
What’s happening here is that Republicans, and their boosters in the conservative media, have been riling up their base with dire predictions that the country faces imminent collapse under a pile of debt and moral decay. They told them that half of the people in this country are too lazy to work, and only support Democrats for some free stuff. They said climate change was a hoax that’s designed to undermine the free enterprise system. They warned them that Mexicans and Muslims and the Chinese and Vladimir Putin are barely being held back at our gates.
And they promised their supporters that they’d fix these phantom problems, come Hell or high water. They made policy commitments that they could only hope to keep if they held the White House, had 60-plus votes in the Senate and, in some cases, threw away the Constitution.
The GOP “establishment” duped their constituents for years — and raised a lot of money doing so — so it makes sense that rank-and-file GOP voters no longer have any faith in the establishment.
The Republican establishment is simply reaping what it sowed.