As the Republican Party casts about for a candidate to fall in love with ahead of the beginning of the extended primary season, Ben Carson's name is popping up more and more. The Good Doctor is obviously flirting with the notion of making a run at the Republican nomination, but if Carson's as smart as he looks, he might want to hold back from the fray.
Why It Looks Like He's Running
Nobody is actually running right now because the election is two years out, and it would just be silly to actively be running for the year and a half before the first primary. That doesn't stop hopefuls from releasing books, and Dr. Carson has done just the same. One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America's Future is just the sort of tome someone like Carson would push out in order to get one's name shooting up the news cycle charts. Carson is currently on a book tour to promote the title, and that tour is taking the retired neurosurgeon across the southern states that make up the GOP's stronghold, plus Florida.
Meanwhile, Carson is popping up on news shows talking politics as if he's got a book to promote or something. NewsBusters caught Carson's recent appearance on NBC's Press Pass, where Carson spoke in broad strokes about how Big Government has been bad for African-Americans.
"The problem," Carson said, "is when you keep extending [the role of government], when you take people who are perfectly capable and you pat them on the head and then you say, 'There there, you poor little thing...'"
This, of course, is the sort of talk that Republican primary voters love. Carson speaks in blurred snapshots of the smaller government aspirations of the Republican base, but he does so without getting too bogged down in the details. As Jonah Goldberg notes in the LA Times, Carson "is to older traditional conservatives what Rand Paul is to younger libertarians."
Celebrated neurosurgeon, self-made man, devout Christian, and African-American to boot? What's to stop Carson from becoming the GOP's Obama?
Politics Is for Politicians
It looks like Carson is leaning toward running, as the rising Republican star told the Weekly Standard recently that he was "starting to feel it."
"It," of course, being the "call from God" to enter the world of politics.
"Because every place I go, it's unbelievable," Carson said of the ground-level support he's seeing on his book tour and speaking gigs. There's even a Draft Ben Carson movement calling for Carson to throw his hat into the ring.
(Of course, there was also a Draft Fred Thompson movement, as well as a Draft Wesley Clark movement. Never heard of those two? Exactly.)
Making the move from political darling to serious candidate is like changing into a tux while riding a horse: you risk falling off, showing up late, losing momentum, or – worst – looking like a mess when you get there. If Carson does throw his hat into the ring, he'll find that former supporters are now looking for something in order to continue supporting him as enthusiastically.
There's also the question of where Carson builds his base, as well as what Carson as a candidate could bring to the table to expand the Republicans' voter core. What does a Ben Carson Coalition look like? What is its platform?
All this isn't even getting too far into the specifics of policy, another potential pitfall for Carson. Tax policy, foreign policy, trade policy: these are all matters rife with stumbling blocks for Carson and even experienced politicos. Sarah Palin saw Russia from her front porch, and John McCain wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb-bomb Iran. Lest you think Carson is completely novel, remember that Herman Cain, too, was a party darling with his 7-7-7 plan, right up until he couldn't pronounce Uzbekistan.
A Ben Carson candidacy would also be responsible for answering for Ben Carson the non-candidate's previous statements. Carson's previously opined on gun rights, saying that there should maybe be some limits on semi-automatic weapon ownership. That's the sort of thing that sinks him among the NRA crowd, and this is just during the lead-up to the nomination within Carson's own party; we're not even talking general election yet.
Carson would also run up against something he's not going to see much of on his book tour: people that don't support Ben Carson. It's all fun and games when one is just flirting with the notion of running, but how do Ted Cruz and Rick Perry's crews react when it looks like Carson is eating into their support? What happens when the primary race gets ugly – as it always does – in South Carolina? The former well-wishers in one's own party, Carson will find, can be the ones that will twist the knife. Remember, it was reportedly Hillary's camp that started the "Obama went to a madrassa" muslim rumor.
In the general, Nominee Carson would have to answer for unfavorably comparing Obamacare to 9/11 and slavery. At one point, Dr. Carson would be asked why he wrote in his book that Hitler's regime "may have started out innocently enough" but brought about the Holocaust "because the people did not oppose a progressively overreaching government."
This really is the sort of thing that happens to political neophytes once they're on the campaign trail. Having no background in politics, Carson would have to learn on the fly how to react to such questioning, all while undergoing the grind of what is now a two-year primary-general marathon.
What Would He Do Instead?
The thing about staying a political darling is just that: you get to stay a political darling. A wish, a dream, a longing for what could be. Ask Sarah Palin, who has 1.1 million Twitter followers, 4.2 million Facebook followers, guaranteed headlines whenever she says anything, and a six-figure or higher paycheck from Fox News. Plus actual politicians in actual races continually jet her to GOP strongholds for an endorsement and attention. All this from a failed 2008 VP run and some coy flirting with the notion of running in 2012.
The good Doctor Ben Carson might do well to consider The Palin and be wise by following suit.