Ben Carson addresses the media during a campaign stop in Sioux Center, Iowa, in June. (Rich Koele / Shutterstock)

Donald Trump may be talking tough while aboard vintage battleships these days, but he’s going to need more than macho swagger and vague generalities to keep his lead over other GOP presidential contenders for another year.

None other than Ben Carson might be giving Trump some competition that The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, for one, doesn’t think the billionaire provocateur can afford to ignore:

On Tuesday, the day before the second televised G.O.P. debate, a new poll, carried out for the New York Times and CBS News, showed Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon, gaining strongly on Donald Trump among Republican voters. This is the latest in a series of surveys that has shown Carson moving up, but the previous surveys still had Trump ahead by double digits. In this one, Trump’s lead was down to just four points, which isn’t even statistically significant. Twenty-seven per cent of likely G.O.P. voters said that they would support Trump, and twenty-three per cent said that they would support Carson.

[…]As the old saying goes, though, you can’t beat something with nothing, and, right now, Carson looks like he might be the something that worried Republicans need. A world-renowned surgeon who was brought up in Detroit by his mother, after his parents divorced, Carson has an inspirational life story to relate. A supporter of a balanced-budget amendment, a skeptic about most government programs, and a harsh critic of Obamacare (last year, he said it has done more damage to the United States than the 9/11 attacks), he is singing a tune that conservatives want to hear. On the basis of what we’ve seen so far, he may well have the calmness and self-confidence to stand up to Trump’s jibes without being rattled. Last week, after Trump questioned Carson’s energy level and called him just an “O.K. doctor”—a laughably inaccurate description—Carson responded gracefully.

Carson, as Cassidy notes, is tracking well among evangelical Christians.

So, although much of the focus of Wednesday night’s Republican debate in California will be on the flashiest act in the lineup — as well as upon those, like Carly Fiorina, whom Trump has trash-talked since the last debate — Carson may wind up in the lead by taking a subtler, steadier approach. Taking that approach shouldn’t be too hard.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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