It was just a few weeks ago that Donald Trump started to have some company at the top of Republican presidential polling, as Ben Carson's support surged. But as MSNBC's Steve Kornacki noted
this morning, the retired neurosurgeon has struggled to maintain his frontrunner status.
At the start of the month, Carson overtook Trump in the national polling average and in the key early states of Iowa and South Carolina. He also moved into a close second behind Trump in New Hampshire. And he seemed to have the potential to rise higher, with Republicans giving Carson the highest marks of any candidate -- by far -- on personal favorability. But with this rise to the top has come a new level of scrutiny from the press and from his opponents. And there are now clear signs that Carson is not holding up well under the spotlight.
There's a fair amount of evidence to reinforce the thesis. Consider the poll aggregators published by the Huffington Post
and Real Clear Politics
, both of which show Carson's support peaking in late October, and steadily declining ever since.
The news is no better for Carson at the state level. In New Hampshire, for example, the latest Boston Globe/Suffolk poll shows him slipping to third place, while the latest Fox News poll in the Granite State has him falling to fourth.
Even in Iowa, which seemed like Carson's strongest early state, recent surveys show him surrendering his lead
back to Trump. Politico
report from Hawkeye State over the weekend, which probably wasn't well received at Carson HQ.
“He’s a great guy, he’s fun to listen to, but I didn’t hear anything substantive,” said Alan Hilgerson, a Des Moines-based physician who said national security is an "extremely high” priority for him as he considers the 2016 contenders vying for Iowa. Of Carson, he continued, “I don’t know that I’d want him as my president.” Worse yet for Carson, at the Family Leader Forum organized by social-conservative icon Bob Vander Plaats, voters said the more they thought about Carson’s foreign policy credentials, the less comfortable they were with him.
The usual caveats certainly apply. There's some volatility in the polling at this stage, and even if Carson has slipped of late, there's time for his support to recover.
But for months, the doctor's poll numbers tended to move in one direction, and right now, they're moving in the other.
As for why, exactly, Carson has hit a rough patch, there probably more than one explanation. The evidence that he's exaggerated much of his personal narrative probably didn't do his campaign any favors -- even if many of his supporters rallied to condemn news organizations over the scrutiny, seeds of doubt were likely planted. What's more, in recent weeks, Carson has done nothing to distinguish himself, even as other candidates scramble as voting nears.
And let's not discount the possibility that Carson's shooting star may have been a bit of fad.
As for who benefits if Carson continues to slide, look for both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to receive the bulk of his wayward followers.