If you’re a regular The Root reader, you already know that I’m fairly skeptical about the prospects of a 2016 presidential run by current Fox News contributor and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. If not, read here, here, here, here and here.
My basic takeaway is that Carson—the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head—is an engaging figure but somewhat ill suited to politics.
And that has increasingly come into focus in the last couple of weeks, with Carson offering a fairly tone-deaf response to Newsmax TV’s Steve Malzberg a few weeks ago about the Ray Rice controversy, and Carson’s unusually flat appearance on this week’s installment of Fox News Sunday. Carson recently told syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt that chances are “reasonably good” that he’ll throw his hat in the 2016 ring, but to my mind, there are a few reasons that his potential candidacy increasingly seems like it might not generate a lot of steam.
The Field Is Catching Up
When “Carson for president” talk really started bubbling up, the GOP was still in a tailspin over losing two national elections in a row to Obama. But Republicans are slowly starting to get excited about some of their candidates. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is skewing toward younger, conservatarian primary voters; it’s being widely reported that many Republicans want Mitt Romney to try again; and even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has started bouncing back from the bridge-gate scandal. In that context, the demand for an outside-the-box pick on the right is becoming less clear.
No Political Experience
Carson’s a smart guy who isn’t a political insider—and for some folks, that’s a feature, not a bug. But while politics isn’t brain surgery—something that Carson literally used to do for a living—it is, like almost every other profession, something that takes time and experience to get good at.
And based on Sunday’s interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, it’s clear that the conservative media is catching up with that idea. Wallace’s question, “Wouldn’t putting Ben Carson in the Oval Office be akin to putting a politician in the operating room and performing one of your brain surgeries?” sounds a bit like my comment a few years ago that “you would no sooner ask Carson to order an airstrike than you’d look to Obama to separate conjoined twins.” And as the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson points out, Carson’s lack of experience undercuts Republicans’ critique of President Barack Obama’s résumé when he first ran for president in ’08.
Right Now He’s Awkward
Wallace introduced Carson as a “rising conservative leader,” but if you read Carson’s book, he declines to explicitly characterize himself as a “conservative.” It’s a nice approach if you want to be perceived as sitting above the fray, but not exactly a winning ethos for a presidential candidate who would likely be in a Republican primary.
Mostly, though, he’s still awkward. Carson’s most interesting thoughts are on health care—he’s got intriguing, although not fully formed theories about health savings accounts—but Fox brought him on to evaluate the legacy of Eric Holder, a topic on which he could muster only the tepid, shopworn assessment that the outgoing attorney general was “very, very partisan—with an agenda.” At the same time, Carson passed on the chance to walk back his earlier observation that in 2016, there’s “certainly the potential” for widespread political anarchy in America.
He comes off like a scold—something that tends to play well at conservative speaking engagements but isn’t a winning vibe for a presidential contender.
Will he run? I suppose.
At least for now, he’s got a reservoir of support within the right-leaning political base: Carson took second place to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in last week’s straw poll at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C.
But it’s starting to seem a little familiar: Passionate guy rallies hard-core support from the base but can’t put together the kind of coalition needed to actually make a serious run at the White House—a Ron Paul or Herman Cain type of run.
Paging Dr. Carson: If that’s not how you want this to play out, you need a political tuneup—stat.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.