For much of the presidential race this far, one of the more common questions surrounding Ben Carson was, "Is this guy as right-wing as he seems?" But more recently, as the Republican candidate's behavior has become more erratic and alarming, the question has suddenly become, "Is this guy OK?"
Consider last week, for example. Over the course of just five days, Americans learned that Carson believes bullet-riddled bodies are preferable to new gun laws; he questioned why victims of a mass-shooting weren’t as brave as he imagines himself to be; he told a bizarre story about a robbery he claims to have witnessed; and the GOP topped it off with a fight with the Anti-Defamation League over his Holocaust confusion. Carson then came up with a bizarre theory about Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei, Mahmoud Abbas, and Vladamir Putin going to college together, which never happened.
For most national campaigns, a week like this would represent a death knell, but Team Carson genuinely believes their candidate's unhinged qualities are beneficial. And though that may be unsatisfying to those who hope candidate performance is related to candidate support, maybe Carson's aides know what they're talking about. Consider the new Fox News poll, for example.
1. Donald Trump: 24% (down two points from last month)
2. Ben Carson: 23% (up five points)
3. Ted Cruz: 10% (up two points)
4. Marco Rubio: 9% (unchanged)
5. Jeb Bush: 8% (up one point)
6. Carly Fiorina: 5% (down four points)
6. Mike Huckabee: 5% (up two points)
8. Rand Paul: 3% (up one point)
Towards the bottom of the poll, Chris Christie, John Kasich, George Pataki, and Bobby Jindal all tied at 1%. For some, this is a dreadful turn of events -- a month ago, a Fox poll showed Christie at 5% and Kasich at 4%. This kind of decline as summer turns to fall has to be discouraging.
But it's the top of the GOP standings that are hard to overlook. Indeed, the pattern should cause some consternation among GOP leaders. Over the summer, Donald Trump created several controversies for himself, making outlandish comments about all kinds of people and issues, and each time, a variety of pundits said, "Now he's gone too far." And soon after, in each instance, Trump's poll numbers went up.
More recently, however, it's Carson who consistently finds himself in the news for making comments that raise questions about his stability and connection to reality. And yet, the more unhinged Carson appears, the greater his support in national Republican polling.
It says something important about the perspective of GOP voters, and just as importantly, it creates an incentive for Republican presidential candidates to be as reckless and irresponsible as humanly possible.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic race, the same poll found these results:
1. Hillary Clinton 45% (up one point from last month)
2. Bernie Sanders 25% (down five points)
3. Joe Biden 19%.(up one point)
Clinton's 20-point advantage is her largest in this poll since August. What's more, her lead stretches to 26 points if Biden is removed from the mix.
The poll, obviously, was taken before last night's debate.