There are two ways to lose a presidential race, just as there are two ways to crash an airplane. There's the slow loss of altitude — a gradual slide down to ground level where the landing gear doesn't open. And then there's the midair breakup, when everything falls apart at once and the candidate just plunges to Earth.
The latter are more interesting.
The gigantic Republican field means that we have a ton of plane crashes to analyze. So we figured we'd try to determine: Which crash has been the most sudden? We are the NTSB, and the RealClearPolitics national polling average is our black box.
One thing to remember is that the peak polling percentage for each candidate varied. Ben Carson was once at 25 percent in the polls! Then he wasn't. Here's each candidate's flight trajectory. (I will not stop using this metaphor, because it is good.)
But that doesn't tell us that much. Sure, Carson fell the most, but he was the highest. And he still had some support when he got out. So how does that compare to other flameouts?
We're really talking about four races here, the four indicated on the graph below. (There's also the unusual case of Rick Santorum, who mostly had a slow crash landing, but a faster one than your Chris Christies or Rand Pauls. So we'll skip him.) We've scaled them from peak to zero, so you can better see how the declines compare relative to their positions in the poll.
The four lucky candidates depicted are Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Scott Walker.
Jeb's fall was sharp, but he stuck around for long enough that it wasn't as steep as others. Carson, as we've noted, went from his high point to the point at which he settled fairly quickly; he fell about 63 percent (note that this is percent, not percentage points) over the course of 53 days. Bad.
But there were worse. Fiorina fell about 75 percent over 44 days, just a bit over a month. (The month was October.) But the king is probably Walker, if we judge from his second peak, which came at the time of his announcement. Walker lost 96 percent of his support over 56 days. His collapse was remarkable.
We do need to give honorable mention to one other party, though — a party that's still in contention. No decline has been more embarrassing than that of the Republican establishment.
That's probably more akin to a train wreck than a plane crash, but we'll leave that to the reader to adjudicate.