The major narrative on the Republican side of the 2016 presidential campaign has been that voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the party establishment. Donald Trump, real estate mogul and reality television star, leads the polls over otherwise shoo-in candidates like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. There’s still a great deal of skepticism as to whether or not Trump will actually be able to maintain his momentum and win the election, but his early support demonstrates that voters are attracted to his status as a Washington outsider.
What voters haven’t yet fully realized is that the crowded GOP field contains two other Washington outsiders. Much like Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been speaking about political issues from outside of Washington for several years. His 2016 presidential campaign aims to capitalize on the support he’s gained from his conservative fan base. The other Washington outsider is Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packer CEO who has made several forays into politics but still maintains a comfortable distance from the GOP establishment.
According to the latest Real Clear Politics assessment, Carson trails Trump by 12.3 points. That puts him in third place in the current polls, just one percent behind Bush. According to the Hill, the candidate is aiming to unseat Trump’s front runner status. “I believe the American people are smart enough to figure out what’s real, what’s not real and what kind of temperament and intellectual endeavors are necessary to be president,” Carson said to the publication, indicating that Trump has little chance of winning the election. Although Carson is running a conservative outsider campaign similar to Trump’s, he’s also attempting to present himself as the calmer, more educated and less controversial alternative.
Fiorina is also experiencing an increase in the polls. The former HP CEO was relegated to the earlier Fox News debate a couple of weeks ago, but her strong performance helped improve her status among GOP voters. She’s currently polling in 7th place at 6.3 percent, just ten points behind both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. As NPR reports, Fiorina’s story along the campaign trail has been similar to Trump’s. She talks about her business experience, how she worked her way up from secretary of a small firm to CEO of a large corporation. She name-drops world leaders like Trump name-drops the CEO of Ford, arguing that she knows the right people from making business deals around the globe.
Although Washington outsiders are growing in popularity among the GOP voter base, none of the candidates are entirely removed from the political establishment. Trump has funded several political campaigns and appeared as a pundit numerous times. Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. Fiorina served as an advisor for McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010. Still, the recent popularity of those three candidates demonstrates how voters are fed up with the status quo in Washington, craving something different than the expected political elite. Even Rand Paul — staging marathon filibusters in the Senate and running on the slogan “Defeat the Washington Machine” — has had trouble convincing voters that he’s different than his father or anyone else in Congress. If Trump, Carson and Fiorina maintain their momentum and are awarded the opportunity to participate in the next debate alongside each other, the establishment candidates could be in more trouble than they’re currently expecting. Trump may not seem electable, but that's not as important to voters anymore.
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