Ben Carson is almost certainly going to run for president in 2016. In recent weeks, the former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and conservative author has told a number of interviewers that the likelihood is strong he’ll officially declare his candidacy sometime this spring. On Sunday, he affirmed this schedule for Fox News host Chris Wallace, adding that he felt called to do something to help a nation he considers to be in peril.
“If we all run for the hills, if we all run for the most comfortable place and just allow whatever to happen, then we get what we deserve,” Dr. Carson told Fox.
So would a Carson race for the Oval Office be a good thing for the Republican Party?
Right now many – maybe a majority of Republicans who know who Carson is – think it’s great. An African-American in a party that struggles to appeal to minorities, Carson is an inspiring speaker with a life story that’s astounding. His mother was one of 24 children. She married at age 13, then divorced when she found out her husband had more than one wife. She raised Ben in poverty. He had terrible anger issues as a child. He prayed to control his temper – and ended up graduating from Yale and then the medical school of the University of Michigan. He rose to head of pediatric surgery at Johns Hopkins at the young age of 33.
His memoir, “Gifted Hands,” has already been made into a TV movie. He was played by Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Carson’s a star on the conservative media circuit. There’s evidence that actual voters respond to his anti-big government, debt-warning pitch, too. At the Value Voters Summit in D.C. over the weekend, he finished second in the presidential straw poll to Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas. According to Public Policy Polling, his favorability in the crucial early caucus state of Iowa is off the charts. His split is 45 percent favorable, 11 percent unfavorable. By contrast, Chris Christie’s split in the same poll is 39 to 36.
But as a non-politician, Carson faces long odds against actually winning the nomination. The last person elected president of the US without holding lower elective office was Dwight Eisenhower. General Eisenhower, of course, had been instrumental in winning World War II.
And some Republicans see two other big obstacles to Carson’s nascent political career.
The first is his tendency to overstatement. During a Fox News radio interview last week, Carson noted that there might not actually be a 2016 election, because “there may be so much anarchy going on.”
On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Carson if he really believed this. Carson doubled down, saying that “certainly, there is the potential.”
There’s no telling what will happen to the US, Carson said, if the debt keeps going up, the nation’s financial foundation remains shaky, and the Islamic State crisis worsens.
GOP primary voters may nod their heads in agreement here. But Republican leaders in Washington shake their heads. They cringe when Carson compares the current state of America to Nazi Germany.
“This is the kind of rhetorical recklessness that convinces many Americans that Republican leaders are extreme, irresponsible, and fundamentally unserious,” writes Peter Wehner, former director of speechwriting for President George W. Bush, in The Wall Street Journal.
Then there is what The Washington Post terms Carson’s “Obama problem.”
This has nothing to do with the ex-neurosurgeon’s race, and everything to do with his lack of experience. President Obama had only four years in the Senate when he won the Oval Office – relatively little political seasoning. His favorability ratings are now in the tank, and Republicans in particular deride him as an incompetent.
Mr. Wallace brought this up and Carson gave a reasoned answer, saying that successful leadership involves assembling a good team, listening to them, and then weighing their opinions wisely.
But the presidential election following a two-term presidency is often about replacing the incumbent with someone who seems different.
“After taking a chance on someone with little national experience in Obama, will Americans – and especially Republicans – be willing to extend someone like Carson the benefit of the doubt?” writes the Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson in The Fix political blog.