When he entered the GOP presidential nomination contest over the summer, Donald Trump rocketed to the top of the polls almost immediately, and there he stayed. Despite intemperate outbursts against minorities, dubious promises about “fixing” a country he describes as “crippled,” and a habit of taunting his opponents with middle school-level insults, Donald Trump has consistently led the GOP in the polls and been described almost universally as the party’s frontrunner.
Until now. Today, Trump is trailing in a closely watched average of national polls; moreover, the guy who’s beating him isn’t even campaigning right now.
On Wednesday, the release of a new national Quinnipiac poll pushed retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson ahead of Trump, 25.3 to 24.3 in the polling average maintained by the website Real Clear Politics. The RCP average has become the de facto standard for gauging the state of the horserace in a campaign where participation in the all-important candidate debates is determined by polling averages.
Were the tables turned, Trump would undoubtedly be shouting the results from the digital rooftops via Twitter and Instagram. Carson, though, has been relatively quiet. His website and Twitter account linked to stories about the polling averages, but other than that, the Detroit native has been relatively quiet.
That’s because, unlike Trump, Carson isn’t on the campaign trail, at least in any official sense. He has, instead, “suspended” his campaign while on a tour promoting his most recent book, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.
The Quinnipiac Poll actually showed Trump leading Carson by a single percentage point, but because of the way RCP calculates its averages (it appears to use the four most recent major national polls conducted by four distinct polling organizations) the appearance of the Quinnipiac poll knocked out a mid-October survey by Monmouth University, in which Trump led Carson by 10 percent.
The result was a 1.3 percent increase in Carson’s average and a 1.0 percent decline in Trump’s, enough to put the famous neurosurgeon ahead of the billionaire former reality television star, on average, for the first time in the contest.
Like Carson, Trump also has a book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. However, rather than suspend his campaign to promote it, he has integrated the book into the campaign.
Trump’s immediate response to the growing challenge from Carson –no surprise here – has been to go on the attack. In a Wednesday morning interview with CNN, he said that Carson would be unable to address the country’s fiscal problems (“Carson does not have the mentality to do that. He has no chance”), and he’s unable to deal with world leaders (“Ben will not be able to deal with China. He will not be able to deal with Iran. He will not be able to deal with any of the countries that are really abusing our country.”).
Trump also took a shot at Carson’s extremely low-key personality, comparing him to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who Trump has repeatedly slammed as a “low-energy candidate.”
“Frankly, when you talk about energy, [Carson’s] got lower energy than Jeb Bush,” he told host Chris Cuomo. “If Ben got in you would say, ‘Oh, my God. We have ourselves a problem.’”
Trump even went after Carson for suggesting that Trump’s upcoming gig as host of Saturday Night Live is beneath the office he’s seeking.
“Ben Carson would have done it in two seconds if they asked him,” Trump said. “But if they asked him, nobody would watch. So they wouldn’t ask him.”