Give this much, at least, to the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee: At the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, they went all out for their “candidate.”
Carson addressed the crowd on the final day of this year’s CPAC—before Sarah Palin’s late-Saturday keynote—and autographed copies of his new book at a preferred-access signing session. Even the room keys at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., featured his picture, with the slogan “Run Ben Run!”
An accidental harkening, perhaps, to the ’80s-era “Run Jesse, run!” refrain.
And while Vernon Robinson, an organizer of Draft Ben Carson, told The Hill’s Alexandra Jaffe that Carson is “the only guy who can broaden the GOP base, get 17 percent of the black vote, get a healthy number of Hispanic voters, while still staying true to conservative ideals,” it would be a stretch to say that he’s the Republican “key” to winning back the White House.
The retired neurosurgeon finished third in CPAC’s straw poll of potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders, just behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and well behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul—the “conserva-tarian” political darling who won the poll for the second year in a row.
But Carson made a big splash, exclaiming, “I hate political correctness,” and telling a packed house that they can count on him to “continue to defy the PC police,” after criticism—from, among others, me—over lumping same-sex marriage in with bestiality. Also controversial has been his opposition to expanding the definition of marriage to anyone, "be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association], be they people who believe in bestiality," and his remark that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”
“Of course,” he added Saturday, “they’re not the same thing. Slavery is much worse.”
It’s a welcome clarification, I suppose. But it underscores his Achilles heel as a political figure. And in a passionate if rambling speech that covered everything from Vladimir Putin to the weak drachma, Carson showed why he’s a long shot to be the country’s next president.
Carson seems like he’s digging the “potential” part more than the “candidate” part of his new role—making speeches, signing books and coyly telling Jaffe that “if there’s somebody out there who is truly exciting people, there wouldn’t be any need for me to run.” And there he actually sounds a little like Palin, who’s launching a new show, Amazing America, and whose 2016 mantra is “I'll never say never,” but she’d run only “if we don’t find” another candidate.
Unlike Paul—also a doctor, but who ran for Senate before gearing up to run for the White House—or Cruz, who came in second in the straw poll and first served as Texas’ solicitor general, Carson has never held office. It’s unclear how Republicans would rally around him after arguing that “inexperience” is what made President Obama—a state and U.S. senator—unfit for office.
CPAC attendee Paige Perkins, an African-American college student who blogs for Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, described Carson as a “humanizing” and “energizing” figure in conservative politics, but told me “it would be great if he ran for Senate” before running for president.
The ‘Only’ Guy?
While Robinson of the Draft Ben Carson campaign argues that Carson is “the only guy” who can broaden the GOP base, that’s strange logic to hear from someone on the far right.
Many have complained bitterly that one of the reasons President Obama was twice elected is that “low-information” black voters only voted for him because he’s black. But if Carson—as opposed to any other conservative—is the “only” guy who can broaden the GOP base, that’s either an indictment of the black electorate or an indictment of thinking within Carson’s camp.
Carson’s personal success story—telling conventioneers that “I used to belong to the 47 percent”—still inspires. And he’s well-suited for his current gig as Obama’s antagonist in chief.
But a presidential run is a lot to put on the shoulders of a guy who’s never run for office and whose platform is a loosely sketched 10 percent flat tax, health savings accounts and holding fast to the theory that gay couples don’t deserve “extra rights,” even as courts in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas—none of them liberal outposts—have been ruling that same-sex-marriage bans are unconstitutional. And that, as I've said before, really isn't brain surgery.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.