Outsiders who have never before held political office are dominating the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is also showing strength, and is a candidate to watch in the Iowa caucuses, where he is outperforming former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Conservatives are thrilled with the developments.
“This is a paradigm shift,” conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace told The Hill. “The base of the party is in open revolt. We’re watching a political party dissolve. It’s a civil war and the GOP as it’s constructed may not survive.”
Others think Republican voters will eventually coalesce around a more traditional GOP candidate — perhaps Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat Trump's Cabinet picks reveal House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief What the 2016 election can tell us about 2018 midterms MORE (R-Fla.).
They believe Trump’s rise is a product of his celebrity and a media frenzy that will ultimately fizzle. They doubt that Carson and Fiorina will be able to compete in the fundraising fight, or pull together the political operation to make a deep run through the primaries.
But for now, the anti-establishment wing of the GOP is on the upswing.
Fiorina is rising in polls, moving into the top tier of candidates in Iowa and New Hamshire, according to two surveys released this week.
A new survey from Public Policy Polling showed Carson has pulled into a second-place tie in Iowa with Walker, who for months held a big lead over the field in the Hawkeye State. A Suffolk University poll released this week showed voters in Iowa believe Carson matched Rubio as one of the winners in prime-time debate.
Both are embracing their outsider status.
“Change was promised, but people don’t see that change ... if Congressional leaders can’t produce results, they need to step aside,” Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, told Breitbart News in a post-debate interview.
The comments aligned Fiorina with grassroots critics of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Carson was similarly blunt in his criticism of the political establishment.
“The political class has weaved an imaginary tale that they’re the only ones who can solve our problems,” he said this week on "CBS This Morning." “But the fact of the matter is if you take the collective political experience of everyone in Congress, which is just under 9,000 years, you’ll see that it really has not solved our problems.”
The rise of Trump, Carson and Fiorina is welcome news to conservatives such as Laura Ingraham, who has been critical of Bush, presumed to have been the GOP front-runner.
“If we don’t come to terms with what is happening in the Republican Party, this is going to be a very ugly 2016,” the radio host said in a testy exchange on Fox News with conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer, who has been critical of Trump.
“There is a coming crack-up in the Republican Party if Republicans don’t let this play out,” Ingraham said.
Many conservatives believe GOP leaders oversold on promises they made heading in to the 2014 election cycle, when Republicans won an historically large majority in the House and wrested control of the Senate from Democrats.
“There was no point in the last election,” said Deace. “Republican leaders nullified the results. Nothing has happened that wouldn’t have happened if [Senate Democratic leader Harry] Reid weren’t the leader.”
Even conservative critics of Trump’s policies believe his popularity is linked not just to his celebrity status, but to the fact that he doesn’t sound like a politician.
“Donald Trump is not taking off because Republican voters agree with his liberal policy positions,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham wrote in an op-ed on Red State. “He has supported socialized medicine, abortion, and amnesty in the past. He is taking off because voters feel unheard, they feel like both political parties are paid off by the well-connected, and they feel like the political process has become a game disconnected from addressing their concerns.”
Texas-based Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak estimated that those in open revolt with the party constitute about a quarter of Republican primary voters.
He said the outsiders will have an impact on the race by forcing candidates with establishment appeal to find new ways of addressing the growing sense of frustration among the base.
One beneficiary could be Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzCruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits Fiorina to meet with Trump on Monday Trump picks Goldman Sachs chief for top economic adviser: report MORE (R-Texas).
The Texas Republican, who since arriving in Washington has relished every opportunity to frustrate party leadership in the Senate, surged into second place in a NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released shortly after the debate.
He’s raised more hard campaign dollars than any other candidate, hauling in $1 million in the 100 hours after the debate, and attracted a crowd of more than 1,000 at a rally in Alabama this week.
Mackowiak says GOP candidates need to realize how angry the base is with its elected GOP leadership.
“The establishment side of the party has to show that they get it, and we haven’t seen that yet,” he said. “They’re saying that Obama has failed, they’re not saying that GOP leadership has failed. That’s not the message the base is sending.”