Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson bows his head in prayer before speaking at a town hall meeting, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa.
Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP

Carson thrives because of, not in spite of, bizarre rhetoric

Updated
For much of the summer, Donald Trump dominated Republican presidential polls everywhere, and Iowa was no different. The New York developer may not seem like a natural fit for Hawkeye State conservatives, but statewide surveys consistently showed Trump leading the GOP field.
 
This week, however, he’s been replaced. A Quinnipiac poll in Iowa, released yesterday, showed retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson leading Trump, 28% to 20%, a big swing from early September, when Quinnipiac showed Trump ahead in Iowa by six points.
 
Today, a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll offers very similar results, with Carson leading Trump in the Hawkeye State, 28% to 19%. In August, the same poll showed Trump up by five.
 
But this line in the DMR’s report on the poll results stood out for me:
Even Carson’s most controversial comments – about Muslims, Hitler and slavery – are attractive to likely Republican caucusgoers.
This isn’t a conclusion drawn through inference; the poll actually asked Iowa Republicans for their thoughts on some of Carson’s … shall we say … eccentricities.
 
The poll told GOP respondents, “I’m going to mention some things people have said about Ben Carson. Regardless of whether you support him for president, please tell me for each if this is something that you find very attractive about him, mostly attractive, mostly unattractive, or very unattractive.”
 
If we combine “very attractive” and “mostly attractive” responses, these are Iowa Republicans’ positive feelings about Ben Carson:
 
1. “He is not a career politician”: 85%
2. “He has no experience in foreign policy”: 42%
3. “He was highly successful as a neurosurgeon”: 88%
4. “He has said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is the worst thing since slavery”: 81%
5.  ”He has an inspirational personal story”: 85%
6. “He has raised questions about whether a Muslim should ever be president of the United States”: 73%
7. “He has said he would be guided by his faith in God”: 89%
8. “He has said that Hitler might not have been as successful if the people had been armed”: 77%
9. “He approaches issues with common sense”: 96%
10. “He has conducted research on tissue from aborted fetuses”: 31%
 
In case it’s not obvious, pay particular attention to numbers 4, 6, and 8.
 
For many political observers, one of the questions surrounding Carson’s candidacy for months has been how he intends to overcome some of the ridiculous rhetoric about his off-the-wall beliefs. But this badly misses the point – Iowa Republicans like and agree with Carson’s ridiculous rhetoric about his off-the-wall beliefs.
 
 

Ben Carson, Benjamin Carson, Iowa and Polling

Carson thrives because of, not in spite of, bizarre rhetoric

Updated