Ben Carson on Monday officially announced that he’s running for president. His campaign kickoff – held at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit – was pretty unusual for that kind of thing. It had several choirs, a violin performance by Dr. Carson’s wife, and an assertion by Carson himself that “I don’t want to be a politician.”
The president of the US is by definition a politician. Carson’s far from the first White House hopeful to declare himself an outside non-professional who wants to clean up the mess in Washington, though. In that sense he’s following a path well-trod by Herman Cain, Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, and others who have tried to translate private sector success into electoral triumph.
Does he have any chance of victory? No, almost certainly not. In modern times, the only non-politician to leap straight into the Oval Office was Dwight D. Eisenhower, and he’d helped win World War II. And if you look at the presidential campaign as something that’s been going on for months, as opposed to just beginning now, Carson’s trend line seems to be heading downward.
At the beginning of March, Carson was running at just over 12 percent in the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls. That was close to the top tier at a time when most candidates were traveling the country trying to win support from party officials and fundraisers in the so-called “invisible primary.”
Since then he’s hit a pothole. Over the last month in particular he’s fallen to about 6 percent in the RCP average. His decline almost matches the rise of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the polls. Mathematical coincidence? We think not.
That said, it’s early yet, and Carson does have his electoral strengths. Primary among them is likability – polls also show that GOP voters react to his demeanor and inspiring life story in a very positive way.
A March Gallup survey found that 36 percent of Republicans polled had a favorable opinion of the former Johns Hopkins surgeon, and only 3 percent had a negative opinion. His 33 percent net favorability rating trailed only Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee.
And unlike Mr. Bush and Mr. Huckabee, Carson isn’t universally famous. Only 39 percent of respondents to the Gallup poll had heard of him. So he potentially has lots of room to grow as he introduces himself to voters via the 2016 process.
Still, liking someone isn’t the same as seeing them in the Oval Office. It’s possible that Carson has already peaked. His tendency to make inflammatory statements, such as his comparison of Obamacare to slavery, might turn off many. And it’s not clear whether the Republican Party as a whole is enthusiastic about his candidacy.
On the one hand, Carson will provide diversity to the Republican field. He’s a successful African-American who rose from dire poverty to the heights of US medicine. That’s a positive for a party that struggles to attract minorities.
On the other hand, you never really know what the heck he’s going to say. (See “slavery,” above.) The Republican establishment wants very much to keep this cycle’s debates from portraying the party as a collection of eccentrics, and Carson may not always help in that regard. There’s a reason the New York Times Magazine titled its profile of the man “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ben Carson?”
Perhaps the most interesting question about Carson is why he’s running in the first place. He’s got no outlying policy issues he’s pushing. He’s not just trying to sell books, or land a Fox News contract. As a world-renowned doctor who had already been played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in a movie, Carson’s speech fees were probably higher before he entered politics.
Maybe he just – gasp! – thinks he can win.
“I think he’s running now because, on some level, he really, truly believes that the thousands of people he’s met who’ve slapped him on the back for standing up to Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast a few years ago are just the tip of the iceberg of a broad national grassroots movement that’s out there waiting for him,” writes Allahpundit at the right-leaning Hot Air site.
Is that movement really out there? Allahpundit thinks not. But time will tell, as we say in the news business when we want to wrap things up. We’re going to find out.