Many predicted Trump's implosion. Now that it's happening, who takes market share?
Trump peaked going into the debates with as much as 24 percent support. The question now is: where do disgusted ex-Trump supporters bring their votes? Some thoughts on how the rest of the pack might divide the spoils in upcoming polls:
Trump: could keep 10 %. Losing most of your support in one debate is huge enough. But implosions are rarely both total and immediate. Ten percent a week ago would still have guaranteed Trump a spot in the thick of this thinly-spread pack, and my bet is that full deflation will take a few more news cycles.
That leaves, let's say, a 14 percentage point windfall to spread among the other candidates today.
Ben Carson: no benefit. That CBS poll found that "among Trump supporters, the most popular second choice candidates for the Republican party's nomination are Carson, Bush, Cruz and Rubio." But Carson's mild performance, plus the reality check from the televised debate that this is, in fact, a political race rather than a seminar, will limit the widely respected surgeon's ability to capitalize on Trump's flameout.
Chris Christie: could pick up an angry 1%. This comes from the tiny minority of ex-Trumpers who knew he was liberal all along, and are grateful to find in Christie someone who's almost as volatile to boot.
John Kasich: +1%. The Venn diagram between Trump and Kasich was always close to zero. Any bump for my own favorite candidate will come later as he takes share from Bush, Walker, Rubio and the whole 1-2% crowd -- not Trump.
Jeb Bush: +1%. We'll see how he improves in New Hampshire, which will be determinative for his candidacy. A handful will be chastened enough by Trump's latest flagrancies to go Full Establishment. But on a national basis, few Trump backers are really going to swing all the way to the other end of the stylistic spectrum, especially when they can turn to...:
Ted Cruz: +2%. A conservative's conservative who's committed to real and radical actions. He caught a meaningful second wind for his pompous self on Thursday. Or...:
Scott Walker: +2. He channeled much of Trump's anger in the debate, while reminding voters that he's actually governed as a conservative. Or...:
Marco Rubio: +3. As close to a consensus victor as any on the evening stage, he'll take share not only from reasonable conservatives generally, but particularly from ex-Trumpers looking to atone in tone.
And the real winner?
Carly Fiorina: +4. The standout from the JV session, and a powerful contrast with The Donald in management style. She'll get picked apart for her record at HP as the contest continues, but her insurgency gives the party a shot to swap substance for flash, and -- to borrow from Megyn Kelly, whose tough questions pushed Trump past the threshold of conscience -- unleash a can of women voters. Combined with ballots earned away from the rest of the field, her total take could hit 8 percent or more soon.
The most important question for the long-term health of the party is not who benefits from Trump's continuing fallout, but what his terminal support number is. "E-mails from Trump supporters upset with me have called me 'queer,' Megyn Kelly something awful, and the President the n-word," Erickson tweeted Saturday morning. I've been waiting for this cohort to leave by the door they came in by forever, and maintained that their numbers are lower than widely believed for almost as long.
We'll find out soon how many there really are. Whoever you are, this is your cue; there's the door. Accept it: You've been Trumped. To a wide range of real Republicans go the spoils.