Ben Carson appears to be slipping.
For the first time since early October, Carson has dropped out of the top three in the weekly GOP Power Rankings.
Each week we ask 30 smart political types who they think is the strongest candidate in the GOP field, and in the wake of the Paris terror attacks the answer is clear: Trump up, Carson down. This is the first week that Carson did not receive a single first-place vote from our panel.
“Carson is cratering,” said Texas-based Matt Mackowiak. “Support was soft to begin with and his campaign was woefully unprepared for front runner scrutiny.”
And Donald Trump just keeps getting stronger. “Whether you agree or not, the clear and tough message from Trump on foreign affairs resonates with a large chunk of primary voters. That’s enough to keep him on top for now,” said Phil Musser of digital consulting firm IMGE.
Trump got 18 first-place votes this week; Marco Rubio got seven and Ted Cruz got three.
Despite Trump’s continued strength, our experts see other candidates best positioned to gain from Carson’s struggles.
“Cruz and Rubio are moving up,” said former presidential candidate Herman Cain. “Carson is losing a little support.”
Journalist Carl Leubsdorf said Carson is “losing strength because of questions about his autobiography and his foreign policy knowledge. Some of his evangelical support appears to be moving to Cruz, especially in pivotal Iowa.”
“I’m putting Cruz second this week,” said former congressman Dan Maffei. “He is holding his own in the polls and the Christian right loves him. When Carson eventually collapses, he will benefit.”
Outside the top three, the big change in our rankings is Bobby Jindal’s departure from the race, which may reduce some competition for the evangelical vote in Iowa. But nobody else in the field looks primed to break out of the pack.
“What stuns me is how little the playing field seems to shift week to week,” said Twitter’s Adam Sharp. “For a party that was very flavor-of-the-month in 2012, (this year) few blips ever last more than a week before retreating to patterns pretty stagnant over four months.”
Week 13 rankings
1. Donald Trump (Last week: 2)
2. Marco Rubio (1)
3. Ted Cruz (4)
4. Ben Carson (3)
5. Jeb Bush (5)
6. Chris Christie (6)
7. John Kasich (8)
8. Carly Fiorina (7)
9. Rand Paul (9)
10. Mike Huckabee (10)
11. Rick Santorum (13)
12. Lindsey Graham (11)
13. George Pataki (14)
14. Jim Gilmore (15)
Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6
Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12
Participants in USA TODAY’s GOP Power Rankings:
Kristen Soltis Anderson, Republican pollster and author of The Selfie Vote
Henry Barbour, Republican strategist, Mississippi
Paul Brathwaite, principal, Podesta Group
Dianne Bystrom, director, Center for Women and Politics, Iowa State University
Herman Cain, talk show host and former GOP presidential candidate
Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist and CNN Commentator, The Dewey Square Group
Frank Donatelli, former RNC deputy chairman and Reagan advisor
Sara Fagen, partner, DDC Advocacy
Peter Fenn, Democratic political strategist, Fenn Communications
Denise Feriozzi, deputy executive director, EMILY’s List
Karen Floyd, CEO, The Palladian Group and former South Carolina GOP chair
Aaron Ghitelman, communications manager, HeadCount
Andra Gillespie, polling analyst and political science professor, Emory University
Nathan L. Gonzales, editor, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report
Lilly J. Goren, political science and global studies professor, Carroll University
Doug Gross, Iowa attorney and previous Republican gubernatorial nominee
O. Kay Henderson, news director, Radio Iowa
Ken Khachigian, senior partner, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
Carl Leubsdorf, Washington columnist, The Dallas Morning News
Deb Lucia, Topeka 912 – the Capital City Tea Party
Matt Mackowiak, Republican consultant and president, Potomac Strategy Group, LLC
Dan Maffei, former Democratic congressman, New York
Phil Musser, chairman, IMGE digital media agency
Margie Omero, Democratic pollster, Purple Insights
Jon Ralston, host, “Ralston Live” on PBS affiliates in Nevada
Craig Robinson, founder and editor, TheIowaRepublican.com
Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., Sr. VP of digital strategy, turner4D
Dante Scala, political science professor, University of New Hampshire
Adam Sharp, head of news, government and elections, Twitter
Alex Smith, national chairman, College Republicans
Todd Spangler, Washington correspondent, Detroit Free Press
Kathy Sullivan, DNC committeewoman and former Democratic Party chair, New Hampshire
Special thanks to the Palladian Group for building our survey platform.