Politics & Media
Nov 06, 2015, 06:52AM

The Pyramid Fell on Trump

The media loves Ben Carson.

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Donald Trump is in trouble. The media has realized that Ben Carson is more fun.

It's slowly dawned on anyone paying attention that beneath Carson's soft-spoken exterior there lurks a goldmine of nattering idiocy and foolishness. But still, who could’ve been prepared for the gleefully random silliness he spouted this week? A reporter asked Carson to reiterate his views on the Egyptian pyramids, and he did. Those views being: the pyramids were not tombs, but were instead hollow storage containers for grain storage, built by the Biblical Joseph.

This is a satisfyingly preposterous opinion, and the nation's media has been busy happily pillorying Carson for it. Which is good news for Carson, and bad news for Trump.

How can it be good for Carson to be revealed as a credulous spouter of pseudoscience? Two reasons. First, Republican primary voters like pseudoscience. Climate change denial and creationism are popular with the GOP base, especially in states stuffed with evangelical voters like Iowa. Mainstream media attacks on Carson for Biblical literalism are hardly going to hurt him, no matter how silly or random that literalism might be.

But more importantly, Carson's comments make good copy—and good copy is what drives polls at the moment. It's still a little early for voters to be paying close attention to the race in most of the country.  That means that polls mostly measure name recognition; voters don't have strong preferences, and so they tell pollsters they're supporting whomever it is they've heard of. This explains how Trump could insult veterans and make crude jokes about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, and still go up and up in the rankings. Journalists love it when Trump says mean-spirited, belligerent nonsense. So reporters wrote and wrote and wrote about Trump—then wrote about him some more when all that writing caused his poll numbers to go up.

But Trump's insult comedy isn't particularly novel, especially going into week three or 12. Reporters, and readers, eventually get bored.

Enter Ben Carson, being goofy. Carson's pyramid comments are far more improbable than anything Trump’s said. And they open up new, potentially hilarious vistas for snickering journalists. Ask Huckabee and Santorum about Biblical pyramid grain silos, and see if they'll jettison all self-respect in an effort to pander to Carson fans. Or just ask Carson about any random thing. Mr. Carson, how did the dinosaurs die?

Carson's already neck and neck with Trump in national polls. A media feeding frenzy is only going to help him—and that's very bad news for Trump. Trump coverage was a feedback loop; report on something outrageous, watch polls go up; report on how Trump can say any outrageous thing and have polls go up, repeat. As long as Trump looked like a winner, he could ride the press coverage to greater polling heights.

But now that the press has discovered the joy of Carson, that’s probably all over. A Trump who looks like he's not an inevitable winner is a Trump that’s less interesting to the press, and therefore a lot weaker in the polls. The spiral that sent Trump's numbers into the stratosphere could spiral him right back down.

It's probably all just a distraction in the end. Neither Trump nor Carson ever had a real chance of getting the nomination—though it's possible that either could win Iowa. But in the meantime, it's a grim time for Trump. If he doesn't want to be rendered irrelevant, maybe he needs to start talking about pyramids.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu 

  • Well, the media is sure feeling the joy of Carson today!

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  • Good synopsis of conventional wisdom Noah. I think what is missing though is that Trump says outrageous things that many of his followers say to themselves when no one is listening. They already believed those things and Trump just has the balls to voice it. Carson tells fanciful tales of redemption through God. Many WANT to believe said tales. As more and more facts emerge to show that Carsons tales are just that, many both in and out of the evangelical community will feel betrayed by his fiction. Conversely, Trump supporters are unlikely to change their thoughts on immigrants etc. and will therefore continue to support Trump. Once this is reflected in the polls, which I think we will start to see in a week, the media will lose interest in the Ben Carson story an go right back to their "love to hate" Trump stories.

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  • Trump's support has always been very thin, despite high polls and "telling it like it is." I agree with Noah that his time has probably elapsed; the accumulation of all his bluster will point voters to other candidates. But Noah, through no fault of his own, jumped the gun on Carso, who, after today, is in trouble.

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  • I'm no fan of Trump but not quite sure how you come to the conclusion that "Trump's support has always been very thin, despite high polls " He has consistently polled between 20-25% . Isn't that a measure of support? I hope that when it comes time to actually vote, his supporters will have an epiphany of reality and vote for anyone else, but, just because others rise and decline in the polls doesn't change his currently firm base. In other words, Carson's rise has not taken votes away from Trump and I suspect his decline will not improve Trumps numbers. Aside from the republican penchant for criticizing the media, the two have few similarities

  • God help us, you might be right. But when I said his polling was thin, I meant that there are SO many polls, and it's only November. Trump got lion's share of media, so poll respondents said him. He has been steady: unlike Herman Cain, Gingrich, Rudy, and others who had brief views from the mountaintop. Should Trump win Iowa, you'll be proved right.

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  • The thing about Trump's immigration stance is that it's just not that different from the rest of the field. All the GOP candidates are into border security and hate amnesty, pretty much. (Jeb a little less so...but Rubio has changed his positon to get in line with the party.) So, it's not like, Trump or no one. Most Trump supporters don't have major differences with anyone else. I don't think there's going to be much trump or bust sentiment; if he fades, they'll go to someone else who will say much the same thing, with perhaps a little less spittle.

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  • I think, and hope, that Rubio's simply playing to base with his rollback of what was once smart immigration policy. Hard to believe he's really a restrictionist.

  • I share that hope but am not convinced that he ever had a strong conviction to do anything other than follow the political winds of the republican base. His positions on abortion, foreign aggression/intervention, and welfare have all shifted right in tandem with the party. I'm not sure that there is any hard evidence of him ever taking, and keeping, a stance that was at all controversial. Basically, I think he will be even more of a puppet than W.

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  • You're still pissed Mike Pence isn't running.

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  • Unlike you and Walker.

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  • Touche. I was drawn by Walker's anti-union success and skimpy personal bank acct., which contrasted favorably to HRC. I didn't realize that he'd never been out of Wisconsin.

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