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The Carson Bubble Has Burst

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We can argue about the extent to which he’s the con or the mark, but between his spectacular burn rate and Rick Perry-caliber campaign skills, we’ve passed peak Carson:

Ted Cruz, buoyed by tea party support and the backing of much of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, has surged to a virtual tie with Donald Trump in Iowa, generating the kind of momentum his team thinks will carry him deep into primary season.

“Sixty-eight days until Iowa,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, when asked whether the Texas senator was peaking too soon. “It’s game time.”

A Quinnipiac University survey released Tuesday found Cruz essentially deadlocked with longtime poll-leader Trump in Iowa: Trump stood at 25 percent and Cruz at 23 percent, within the margin of error. That’s more than double Cruz’s standing in the Oct. 22 Quinnipiac poll and it follows a Sunday survey, released by CBS and YouGov, that also placed Cruz in second place in Iowa, at 21 percent, trailing Trump but beating previous Iowa leader Ben Carson.

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So instead, he stayed under the radar all summer, organizing in the early states and in those that vote in March, and focusing on fundraising, announcing last month that he had more cash on hand than any other GOP candidate. Now, his campaign is boasting one of the most robust operations in the country, with more than 100,000 volunteers nationwide and 2,500 in Iowa. He’s also organized in every county in the first four voting states.

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That change has taken place in part thanks to Carson, who in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris has struggled to articulate a coherent foreign policy vision while Cruz sought to play up commander-in-chief credentials. Carson’s supporters have begun to shift to Cruz, with the CBS/YouGov poll finding that “Cruz’s move has come directly at the expense of Carson, as nearly one-quarter of his voters switched.”

The more thoroughly and rapidly Carson implodes, the better news it is for Cruz, who I think is an overwhelming favorite to win Iowa at this point.

On Trump, I think Nate Silver’s assessment is correct:

So, could Trump win? We confront two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era. And second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, we don’t have all that many data points, so unprecedented events can occur with some regularity. For my money, that adds up to Trump’s chances being higher than 0 but (considerably) less than 20 percent. Your mileage may vary. But you probably shouldn’t rely solely on the polls to make your case; it’s still too soon for that.

If Cruz wins Iowa, I think this makes Trump winning the nomination even less likely.

In the likely event that the race ultimately settles into Cruz against Rubio, I think the typical assumption will be that liberals should be rooting for the latter. I completely disagree. Ideologically, there isn’t a Confederate nickel’s worth of difference between them. Erik is right that the stakes of the Democratic Party are a lot lower than you think, but the stakes of the Republican nomination are even lower unless Trump shows more staying power than I think he will. The salient differences between Rubio and Cruz are that the former 1)is better at saying the loud parts quiet, 2)will be a more attractive general election candidate, and 3)can probably work more effectively with Congress. Any major party candidate can win a general election under the right circumstances, but Cruz would make a Republican win marginally less likely, perhaps significantly. He won’t be able to sell it; he’s not respected. Democrats are better off with Tony Ted. Definitely.

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