Watching the train wreck

Fig. 1. Ben Carson. CNN, fair use.

It’s terribly early to be speculating on the outcome, but it’s also an interesting moment in the Republican contest for the presidential nomination in 2016. A recent poll out[1] suggests that Ben Carson, who very much appears to be pandering to the social conservative vote,[2] has pulled nearly even with Donald Trump (figure 2), who very much appears to be pandering to the authoritarian populist vote.[3] Carly Fiorina, who seems to be running a fact-free campaign,[4] also seems to be doing well.[5]

Anger with the political system and continued economic anxiety is propelling “outsider” candidates in both parties, including Mr. Sanders in the Democratic field and Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina among Republicans.

This unsettled mood that has defined the electorate up to this point shows no signs of abating. Four-in-five Americans said they were either “angry because our political system seems to only be working for the insiders with money and power” or “anxious and uncertain because the economy still feels rocky and unpredictable”—or both.[6]

Fig. 2. Donald Trump. CNN, fair use.

It’s tempting to suggest the contest for the nomination may illuminate the relative strength of social conservatives to authoritarian populists, but there’s also some evidence that while Carson has been rising, Trump may be in decline.[7] What’s needed here is a gauge of how much Carson has benefited at Trump’s expense and the only analysis I’ve seen suggests that Trump had taken about 32 percent of Carson’s support between May and August and that Carson might win 18 percent of Trump’s support if Trump left the race.[8] Trump was, somewhat counterintuitively,[9] appealing to some social conservative voters.[10] But all of that precedes most of the publicity that Carson has more recently gained for expressing social conservative views.

My own sense of the polls is that we are seeing both the floor and the ceiling of Trump’s support. If so, it seems likely that those who have been swearing Trump can’t win the nomination will be vindicated. But much will depend on how the winnowing of the field,[11] begun with the departures of Rick Perry[12] and Scott Walker.[13] I do not think we have necessarily seen the ceiling for either Carson or Fiorina.

Yet despite the growing revolt against the ruling class, it seems likely that the nominees in 2016 will be Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. After all, the ruling class still controls America.

But the revolt against the ruling class won’t end with the 2016 election, regardless.

Which means the ruling class will have to change the way it rules America. Or it won’t rule too much longer.[14]

Robert Reich wrote that early in August and it’s now hard to see Jeb Bush pulling this out. Recent polls show him sinking in the single digits[15] and he might gain only 8 percent if Trump were to drop out of the race.[16] At the very least, he has a lot of ground to make up and I just don’t see the sort of enthusiasm that would make that possible.

Democrats head into the 2016 election in the precarious position of backing a presidential front-runner who is losing steam with the broader electorate, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton retained her lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, the survey found, but she now runs neck-and-neck with three of the four leading GOP contenders, two months after Journal/NBC News polling showed her dominating the Republican field.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is still weighing a bid, performs much better than does Mrs. Clinton in test match-ups—beating former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 8 percentage points, for example, where Mrs. Clinton is essentially in a tie with him. Those findings will encourage Democrats looking for Mr. Biden to enter the race.[17]

While speculation continues to swirl around a possible run by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton continues to flounder at the top of the Democratic race, even expanding her lead of Bernie Sanders.[18] She is losing support nationally but apparently remains a favorite for the nomination even if Biden enters the race. Which means that Democrats would be nominating the weaker candidate.[19]

This is not a year for establishment candidates who see the presidency as an entitlement. We already see that in the Republican race, where “outsiders” are doing well. It’s less clear in the Democratic race because Clinton has been a problematic candidate from the beginning. The difference is that the Republicans now seem much more likely to nominate a winning candidate than the Democrats. Recent work suggests that 1) weaker economic conditions favor the right, and 2) presidential coattails matter more than ever, meaning that a Republican presidential victory might be accompanied by more right-wing victories at the state and local levels.[20] It’s a truly sickening time to be in the United States or, really, anywhere U.S. policy has an impact.

  1. [1]Kyle Balluck, “Poll: Trump, Carson neck and neck atop GOP field,” Hill, September 27, 2015,; Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  2. [2]see Lawrence M. Krauss, “Ben Carson’s Scientific Ignorance,” New Yorker, September 28, 2015,
  3. [3]see Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohn, and Jeremy W. Peters, “Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak,” New York Times, August 22, 2015,; Bruce Bartlett, “Will Donald Trump Crack-up the Republican/Tea Party Alliance?” Big Picture, August 10, 2015,; Bill Curry, “The destruction of Donald Trump: How the billionaire with a rage problem became the frontrunner — and then fell apart,” Salon, August 10, 2015,; Ross Douthat, “Donald Trump, Traitor to His Class,” New York Times, August 29, 2015,; Jeff Greenfield, “What If Trump Wins?” Politico, August 4, 2015,; Jeet Heer, “Donald Trump Is Not a Populist. He’s the Voice of Aggrieved Privilege,” New Republic, August 24, 2015,; Kathleen Hennessey, “GOP strategist talks to Trump supporters and comes away believing he could win the nomination,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2015,; Mark Hensch, “Trump: I’m winning because Americans are ‘tired of being the patsies’,” Hill, August 29, 2015,; Marina Koren, “Donald Trump’s No-Apology Tour Continues,” Atlantic, August 25, 2015,; David Kurtz, “No Citizenship For You!” Talking Points Memo, August 19, 2015,; Caitlin MacNeal, “Poll Shows Trump Is By Far The Least Favorable GOPer Among Hispanics,” Talking Points Memo, August 25, 2015,; Amanda Marcotte, “Why Fox News’ Defense Of Megyn Kelly Is Going To Backfire,” Talking Points Memo, August 26, 2015,; Josh Marshall, “Act Two of the Trump Epic,” Talking Points Memo, August 19, 2015,; Suzanne McGee, “The US economic system is unjust. Says who? Says billionaire Donald Trump,” Guardian, September 6, 2015,; Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” New Yorker, August 31, 2015,; Alex Pappas, “‘Nothing Disqualifies Trump’ — What A Focus Group Tells Us About His Supporters,” Daily Caller, August 24, 2015,; Leonard Pitts, Jr., “Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail in GOP,” Miami Herald, July 18, 2015,; Andrew Prokop, “Donald Trump vs. the Club for Growth, explained,” Vox, September 15, 2015,; Janell Ross, “Donald Trump is now reaping what he has sown,” Washington Post, September 19, 2015,; Tierney Sneed, “Univision Prez Slams Trump: Treatment Of Jorge Ramos ‘Beneath Contempt’,” Talking Points Memo, August 27, 2015,; Kimberley A. Strassel, “The GOP’s ‘Whatever’ Moment,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2015,; Joan Walsh, “Donald Trump’s Southern strategy: What his Alabama pep rally revealed about the right’s new racial politics,” Salon, August 24, 2015,
  4. [4]Bethania Palma Markus, “Yale prof opens can of whoop-ass on Fiorina: She has an ‘almost psychopathic denial of reality’,” Raw Story, September 28, 2015,; Eugene Robinson, “Carly Fiorina’s ultraconservative rage,” Washington Post, September 28, 2015,
  5. [5]Kyle Balluck, “Fiorina jumps to second place in post-debate poll,” CNN, September 20, 2015,; Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  6. [6]Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  7. [7]Philip Bump, “Donald Trump is free to cherry-pick his polls. But his decline is clear,” Washington Post, September 27, 2015,
  8. [8]Lynn Vavreck, “The Republican Candidates Donald Trump Has Hurt the Most,” New York Times, September 14, 2015,
  9. [9]Anugrah Kumar, “#TrumpBible: Twitter Users Mock Donald Trump After He Refuses to Share Favorite Bible Verse,” Christian Post, August 30, 2015,; Joan Walsh, “Donald Trump’s empty loyalty vow: Man with three marriages, four bankruptcies reportedly pledging fidelity to GOP,” Salon, September 3, 2015,
  10. [10]Ray Nothstine, “Who Are the Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump?” Christian Post, August 30, 2015,
  11. [11]Tom McCarthy, “Here’s why Donald Trump won’t win the Republican presidential nomination,” Guardian, August 22, 2015,
  12. [12]Seth McLaughlin and Stephen Dinan, “Rick Perry to suspend 2016 GOP presidential campaign,” Washington Times, September 11, 2015,
  13. [13]Eric Bradner, John King, and Jeff Zeleny, “Scott Walker drops out of 2016 presidential race,” CNN, September 21, 2015,
  14. [14]Robert Reich, “The Revolt Against the Ruling Class,” August 2, 2015,
  15. [15]Jennifer Agiesta, “Poll: Donald Trump surges to 32% support,” CNN, September 10, 2015,; Dan Balz and Scott Clement, “Poll: Trump, Carson top GOP race; Clinton leads Dems but support drops,” Washington Post, September 13, 2015,; Dana Blanton, “Fox News Poll: Shakeup in GOP field after first debate, Sanders gains on Clinton,” Fox News, August 16, 2015,; Patrick Healy and Megan Thee-Brenan, “More Republicans See Donald Trump as a Winner, Poll Finds,” New York Times, September 15, 2015,; Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  16. [16]Lynn Vavreck, “The Republican Candidates Donald Trump Has Hurt the Most,” New York Times, September 14, 2015,
  17. [17]Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  18. [18]Colleen McCain Nelson and Carol E. Lee, “Joe Biden Supporters Ramp Up a Campaign-in-Waiting,” Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2015,; Ramesh Ponnuru, “Draft Biden Official: ‘I Am 100 Percent That Joe Is In’,” National Review, September 17, 2015,; Amie Parnes, “Dems see Biden entering race — and complicating life for Hillary Clinton,” Hill, September 21, 2015,
  19. [19]Patrick O’Connor, “WSJ Poll Shows Risks for GOP; Clinton Support Wanes,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2015,
  20. [20]Thomas B. Edsall, “What if All Politics Is National?” New York Times, September 29, 2015,

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