The two most recent Iowa polls suggest that Ben Carson is pulling away from Donald Trump. A new poll by Monmouth College gives the good doctor a 14 point lead (32-18) over the blustery tycoon. Similarly, a Loras College poll has Carson up by 12 points, 31-19.
It’s too early to draw firm conclusions from these surveys about how the race will play out. For example, Carson might falter in upcoming debates and this could (but not necessarily would) hurt him in the caucuses.
It’s also possible that Trump’s standing will improve. However, his fade seems consistent with the nature of Iowa Republican caucus-goers. By reputation, they favor friendly, socially conservative candidates. Trump can’t fill this bill.
Accordingly, further decline by Trump in Iowa seems just as likely as a Trump revival. Indeed, decline may be more likely if Carson remains popular and Trump goes after him aggressively (e.g., by raising questions about Carson’s religion). In this scenario, Trump might not even finish second. The polls cited above show Rubio and Cruz within striking distance of second place in Iowa.
A conventional politician in Trump’s shoes wouldn’t be too concerned about slipping to second in Iowa polls. He remains far ahead in New Hampshire, and history shows that strong candidates who finish second in Iowa usually suffer no carryover effect in the Granite State or elsewhere.
But Trump isn’t a conventional candidate, and doesn’t seem to think like one. Right now, the poll-obsessed billionaire says he disbelieves the polls that show he’s fallen behind in Iowa. He’s in denial.
If it dawns on Trump that he actually is losing, he may overreact and fall to third place as a result. And if he reacts badly to a disappointing finish in Iowa (see Dean, Howard) there could be a carryover effect in New Hampshire and/or elsewhere.
All of this is highly speculative. But speculating is half the fun during the silly portion of a presidential campaign.