At Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, 11 candidates will take the stage in an unexpected order – with the outsiders very much on the inside.
That's because they have broken away from the rest of the field since the first debate. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have risen a combined 20 points in averages of national polling since the Aug. 6 debate, combining for upward of half the GOP vote at this point. Neither candidate has run for – much less held – political office.
Another outsider, Carly Fiorina, will join the primetime event on Wednesday. That’s thanks in part to CNN’s amended rules, but also because she has risen two points in national polls since her strong showing in the first debate.
Contrast that to career politicians Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who have each fallen at least six points since last debate. In fact, 11 candidates have lost ground since Aug. 6. That’s everyone who has held public office except Ted Cruz (considered by many an outsider in the Senate), John Kasich and Marco Rubio (interesting asterisks to this anti-establishment thinking).
This finding from Monday’s Post-ABC poll further emphasizes the point:
Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say they prefer the next president to have experience that comes from outside the political establishment. Only about a quarter of Democrats say the same.
Of course, it’s still very, very early in primary season. There were *five* clear front-runners in the Republican field last cycle (Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney). There are at least nine GOP debates left, many endorsements to earn, nearly five months until the Iowa caucuses and millions of dollars to raise.
One factor that might come to matter later on: The current leaders and their allies have not raised nearly as much money as the establishment candidates. Though slipping in the polls, Bush dominates the money category. His campaign and outside allies had raised $120 million as of the last FEC filing deadline.
Although Bush has fallen and Cruz has gained less than one point since the last debate, it’s safe to assume they’ll both be in the race for a while given their money.
At the same time, consistently polling well might encourage donors to support anti-establishment candidates like Trump, Carson and Fiorina. Carson’s campaign told the New York Times that he has more than $23 million at his disposal and another $20 million in allied super PACs. We’ll better know the extent of this effect when the next FEC filings come out in mid-October.
Those filings will tell us just how much trouble the Republican establishment is in. But if polling changes are any indicator, the disconnected-from-Washington, non-politician strategy has carried the day since the first debate.