(The Root) — While Sarah Palin and her Big Gulp stunt generated the most laughs at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, the event made clear that she is no longer the GOP's rising star. Only five short years after she burst onto the national scene, Palin was overshadowed by those perceived as representing the GOP's best hope at reclaiming the White House. Among them was Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But there was another rising star who emerged at this year's gathering. Only he's not a politician — yet: Dr. Benjamin Carson.
Carson is one of the best-known black doctors ever; so well known, in fact, that his life story was the subject of a film starring Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr., titled Gifted Hands. The title refers to Carson's gifts as a surgeon. He became the youngest division head in the history of Johns Hopkins Hospital when he became director of pediatric neurosurgery at age 33.
He is known for executing some of the most groundbreaking surgeries of the last two decades, among them separating two conjoined twins. His rapid ascension followed his graduation from the University of Michigan Medical School and Yale University as an undergraduate. But what makes his accomplishments particularly impressive and compelling is that he grew up in poverty. Carson is the embodiment of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mantra that so many conservatives espouse.
A devout Christian, he has made no secret of some of his socially conservative positions, among them opposing abortion. Though Carson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2008, it was not until earlier this year that he first began to be considered a political contender.
Carson controversially condemned some of President Obama's policies in a public speech. While the remarks themselves drew praise in conservative corners, the venue drew criticism. Carson attacked health care reform and other Obama-administration accomplishments at the National Prayer Breakfast, one of Washington's few strictly nonpartisan gatherings. But while some, including some high-profile conservatives, said Carson owed the president an apology for the timing and location of his remarks, others saw a future conservative star emerge.
Carson's speech this past weekend at CPAC, which garnered multiple standing ovations, seemed to affirm that. He is, in many ways, a dream candidate. He has had real-world experience that people admire; is a happily, longtime-married family man; and is handsome, a great speaker, funny and personable. I have both met Carson and watched him captivate an audience — which is not an easy thing to do.
Neither is getting elected president. But if anyone is capable of defying the odds, it's Carson, who has already done so by reaching and staying at the upper echelons of one of the world's most competitive professions — a profession that he has announced he will be retiring from later this year.
This leaves the door open for Carson to pursue another career, and many seem to think that politics is a natural fit. If he does decide to throw his hat in the political ring, it will be some welcome good news for the GOP, which just lost one of its African-American rising stars to scandal this week and has struggled to redefine itself in an increasingly brown world, while the party attracts an increasingly white demographic.
Carson has saved countless lives as a doctor, but it remains to be seen if he can save the GOP.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.