Dr. Ben Carson: Can rising conservative star really fulfill GOP dreams?
Dr. Ben Carson wowed the crowd at CPAC. But as the renowned neurosurgeon's views become known, he may not be a perfect fit for establishment Republicans.
Washington — Ben Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, is conservatives’ newest darling. He is smart, successful, affable – and African-American.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last month, Dr. Carson first won political notice with his critique of Obamacare. He also warned that “moral decay” and “fiscal irresponsibility” can destroy a nation from within – even a powerful country like America. President Obama sat stone-faced nearby.
Then at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington, Carson won several standing ovations as he spoke about his upbringing by a single mom in Detroit, the importance of education, the need for a flat tax, and the “war on God.”
Carson also announced he’s retiring in about three months, and suggested he’s open to running for president. The Wall Street Journal is already on board: “Ben Carson for President,” its editorial page wrote after the prayer breakfast.
But for a Republican Party eager for new talent – and the support of minorities – Carson may not be a perfect fit. For starters, he’s not a Republican; he’s an independent. And in an interview with the Daily Caller website, posted late Tuesday, the doctor revealed that he opposed both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and believes “consenting adults have the right to formalize a relationship between them.”
Carson described a letter he wrote to President Bush after the 9/11 attacks, suggesting a course of action that did not involve invading Iraq or even Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda was operating.
“I actually wrote President Bush a letter before the [Iraq] war started and I said, you know, what I would do is I would use the bully pulpit at this moment of great national unity and, very much in a Kennedy-esque type fashion, say within 10 years we’re going to become petroleum independent,” Carson told The Daily Caller.
“And that would’ve been much more effective than going to war because, first of all, the moderate Arab states would’ve been terrified. And they would’ve handed over Osama bin Laden and anybody else we wanted on a silver platter to keep us from doing that.”
“Most importantly,” he added, “the terrorists will be defunded, and that’s the way you get to them.”
Carson said he opposed going to war in Afghanistan, because of the country’s history.
“You’ve got 300 tribal leaders throughout the country who have never been united in anything, so who are you going to negotiate with?” he said. “How are you going to achieve peace in a situation like that?”
But Carson isn’t an isolationist. On both Iraq and Afghanistan, he says he would have used covert means to go after Bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In general, “as the pinnacle nation in the world, we play a critical role in the direction of the world,” he said. “I think we have to be active.”
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Carson is a fan of Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, who advocates a return to a noninterventionist, diplomacy-based foreign policy, but not isolationism.
Speaking Monday on Fox News, Carson told Sean Hannity he is impressed with Senator Paul, and not just because he’s a doctor like him.
“He thinks quite logically,” Carson said. “He has courage. He’s willing to take positions that some other people won’t.”
If Carson decides to become a Republican and run for the 2016 nomination, he may well face Paul in the primaries. But in the meantime, he, like Paul, is out there, saying what he thinks and gaining prominence. In building a fan base, Paul is a few steps ahead. He won the CPAC presidential straw poll with 25 percent of the vote, on a ballot with 23 candidates. Carson tied for seventh with 4 percent. But that’s not bad for a guy who just a few weeks ago was not on many activists’ radar.