To the extent that the not-so-stunning news that Ben Carson is effectively dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination has an effect on the rest of the race, it might be a small net positive for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who finished a distant second to billionaire Donald Trump in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries.
The news of Carson’s departure broke Tuesday, when Washington Post reporter Robert Costa wrote that the retired pediatric neurosurgeon was planning to tell supporters that he sees “no path forward,” that he would not attend tomorrow night’s scheduled GOP debate, and would deliver a speech on his political future at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
Carson has won less than one percent of the more than 700 delegates allocated in the 15 states that have held primary elections or caucuses so far, and has not seriously contested in any of them. So, his departure from the race doesn’t signal a major realignment of voters.
A mid-February NBC poll, conducted when Jeb Bush was still in the race, showed that a plurality of Carson voters, 24 percent, chose Cruz as their second choice if he were to leave the field. However, 22 percent said they were likely to switch their loyalty to Trump. More Carson voters said they were unsure of their second choice, at 17 percent, than said they would switch to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, at 16 percent.
For Cruz, though, any bit of good news is welcome right now. A candidate who has run as an unabashedly right-wing Christian, he just lost most of the Bible belt to the thrice-divorced vulgarian currently leading the polls.
In his speech last night celebrating his wins in Texas and Oklahoma (he would later win Alaska as well), Cruz called on the remaining non-Trump candidates in the race to “prayerfully consider” getting out and uniting their supporters behind him. He can now plausibly claim that Carson’s move is the beginning of a consolidation of the field that will end with him as the anti-Trump nominee.
Another bit of good news for Cruz (and the other non-Trump candidates) is that Carson, by removing himself from the debate stage, frees the Fox News Channel moderators from the obligation to lob a few questions his way. While Carson’s weird ramblings were a bit of comic relief in the last few debates, Trump’s opponents no doubt want every possible moment of airtime cleared for attacks on the frontrunner tomorrow night.