“Ben Carson Is In Danger Of Losing All Respect”: He Can Only Lose In This Campaign, And More Than Just The Republican Primary
Over decades of a brilliant career as a brain surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson attracted legions of admirers — black, white and brown; liberal, moderate and conservative; fundamentalist Christian and agnostic. His story is the stuff of legend, the awe-inspiring tale of a poor black boy in Detroit who overcame daunting obstacles and vaulted to the very top of his profession.
Given that his profession was pediatric neurosurgery, black Americans were particularly proud. Carson, who was the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins attached at the head, stood as stark repudiation of invidious stereotypes about black intellectual capacity. His memoir, Gifted Hands, has been passed through countless black households.
But the good doctor’s foray into Republican presidential politics threatens to become his epitaph, to overshadow — perhaps even to overwhelm — his academic and surgical accomplishments. He will likely be remembered as the GOP’s latest black mascot, a court jester, a minstrel show. He’ll be the Herman Cain of 2016.
Clearly, Carson’s chances of winning the Republican nomination for president stand at less than zero. No matter how many cheers he attracts at conservative gabfests, no matter how many of his bumperstickers appear on the vehicles of true believers, no matter how many Fox News pundits suggest he’s a viable candidate, he won’t come close to becoming the GOP standard bearer.
Nor should he. He is dangerously unqualified for the presidency — a political novice who is happily ignorant of policy, both foreign and domestic, and contemptuous of religious pluralism and personal liberties.
Carson catapulted to stardom in the ultraconservative firmament in 2013, when he addressed the National Prayer Breakfast with a speech in which he lashed out at the Affordable Care Act as President Obama sat nearby. Though the breakfast has a long history of nonpartisanship, Carson chose to criticize many of the policies that the president supports, including progressive taxation.
That was enough to cause conservatives to swoon. Since Obama’s election, Republicans have been sensitive to charges that their small tent of aging voters has become a bastion of white resentment, a cauldron of bigotry, nativism and fear of the other. They want to show that their fierce resistance to all things Obama has nothing to do with race.
That promotes a special affection for black conservatives who are willing to viciously criticize the president. As with Cain before him, Carson garners the most enthusiastic cheers from conservative audiences when he’s excoriating Obama, the most rapturous applause when he seems to absolve them of charges of bigotry. Why would Carson trade on his reputation to become their token?
I’ve little doubt that his conservative impulses are genuine. He grew up Seventh-Day Adventist, a conservative religious tradition. Moreover, he has adopted a view popular among white conservatives: that black Democrats give short shrift to traditional values such as thrift, hard work and sacrifice. (Hasn’t Carson ever heard any of Obama’s riffs excoriating deadbeat dads and promoting discipline, scholarship and parental involvement in their children’s lives?)
But Carson hardly represents the long and honorable tradition of black conservatism in America. Starting with the father of that movement, Booker T. Washington, its adherents have had a healthy appreciation for the reality of racism in America. Carson, however, thinks Obamacare “really (is) the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And … it is slavery in a way.” Washington and his peers, who knew better, would never have countenanced such nonsense.
Moreover, black conservatism has promoted self-reliance, but it hasn’t been a font of right-wing intolerance and know-nothingism. Carson, for his part, has dismissed evolution (giving his former colleagues at Johns Hopkins heartburn); he has compared homosexuality to bestiality; and he has spurned the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.
Given the ultraconservative politics of GOP primary voters, those extreme positions may help Carson in the early campaign season. But those views also guarantee that mainstream Republican leaders and their donors will flock elsewhere, seeking to find an experienced, broadly appealing and electable candidate.
Carson can only lose in this campaign — and more than just the Republican primary. He also stands to lose his place as one of the nation’s most admired men.
By: Cynthia Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, May 9, 2015
“He Was Awfully Busy Last Time”: In Early Polling, God Remains Undecided On Pick For 2016 GOP Nominee
Had you asked me which of the 20 or so potential Republican presidential candidates would be first to claim that his candidacy was endorsed by God himself, I would have said Ben Carson, who has the necessary combination of deep religious faith and self-aggrandizing nuttiness. And today we learn that while the creator of the universe is still mulling his options, he’s not exactly giving Carson a no:
In an interview on Thursday with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Carson said he felt the hand of the Lord pushing him toward the White House.
“Has He grabbed you by the collar yet?” host David Brody asked.
“I feel fingers,” Carson said. “But, um, you know… It’s mostly me.”
Admirably modest and self-aware, I’d say. But I still bet that eventually Carson will announce that he’s received a signal from above that the campaign is a go. If and when he does, he’ll surely have some competition, that is if 2016 is anything like 2012. In case you don’t recall, God was awfully busy last time. Here are some highlights:
Michele Bachmann, when asked if she was being called to run, said, “Well, every decision that I make, I pray about, as does my husband, and I can tell you, yes, I’ve had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do.” She also noted that God had called her to run for Congress in 2006.
In July of 2011, Rick Perry said his impending campaign was a God-sanctioned religious mission: “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”
While Rick Santorum didn’t say God had instructed him to run, his wife Karen did say that she put aside her initial reluctance about a campaign after concluding that it was what God wanted.
My personal favorite is Herman Cain’s story of how one day when he was tired from going out and meeting potential voters his granddaughter sent him a text telling him she loved him. The sweet act of a loving child? Heavens, no. “Do you know that had to be God?” Cain said. “I know that God was speaking to me through my granddaughter, that this is something that I have got to at least explore.”
And here’s a little bonus from four years prior, when past and future candidate Mike Huckabee, who may or may not have been called to run, explained a fleeting rise in his poll numbers by saying, “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. That’s the only way that our campaign can be doing what it’s doing. And I’m not being facetious nor am I trying to be trite.” Apparently, God was only teasing, because Huckabee did not in fact become president.
Of course, just because God tells you to run doesn’t mean he’s promising you’ll win. Maybe it’s his plan that you run and humiliate yourself in order to make you humble, which looks like it might have been the idea with Rick Perry in particular (though I don’t know that the humility lesson really took).
All kidding aside, I understand that deeply religious people pray for guidance and wisdom whenever they’re faced with a big decision, and whether to run for president is about as big as it gets. It helps if you can attribute to God the thing you want for yourself. And this is really just a religious version of the reason every candidate says they’re running. No one says, “I’m running for president because I’m pathologically ambitious, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was 10 years old, and this is the year I think I’ve got a real shot.” Instead, they all say it’s a calling of one sort or another. It’s because the challenges the country faces are so enormous that as someone who cares so deeply about America, they just couldn’t stay on the sidelines. It’s because they have a vision that can lead us into the future. It’s because this is such a critical time in our history. In short, they all say, “I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for something much larger and greater.”
In other words, everyone who runs for president delivers a line of bull when asked why they’re running. Saying it’s because God demands it may at first blush sound particularly crazy, but it’s all the same.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 22, 2014
Phil Mattingly has an excellent profile of retired surgeon Ben Carson on Bloomberg Politics today. Carson’s overt forays into Republican presidential politics are compelling for several reasons, not least that he’s another in a string of utterly implausible candidates who generate great enthusiasm among the Republican base. Carson leads Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in the Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa poll.
What exactly does the right find so appealing about Carson?
The familiar tropes are evident, including reluctant patriotism (running for high political office is “about the last thing I ever wanted to do,” Carson told Mattingly) and a double-barreled shot of crazy (“People hate each other and I am not 100% sure that it’s not planned,” he explained).
“One Nation” is the title of Carson’s autobiography. In case that’s too subtle a signal of political ambition, the subhead forges ahead: “What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.”
No doubt, some Americans can best save the future by running for president. Carson casts himself not only as a brave truth teller but as a wise man above the partisan fray. “I refuse to engage in the grade-school-yard tactics of name-calling and mean-spirited comments when we have so many important issues to solve,” he wrote.
Of course, it can be tough to maintain such high-minded equanimity in the face of “secular progressives” who have no regard for fundamental principles such as freedom of speech and “distort words and meanings, and then cling to the created lies in an attempt to destroy enemies.” (Not that anybody is calling anybody names.)
Should Carson run for president, his candidacy promises to be a (traditional) marriage of Michele Bachmann’s personal loopiness and Herman Cain’s professional ignorance of public policy. In his book, Carson called the Affordable Care Act “the biggest governmental program in the history of the United States.” (So much for Social Security, Medicare, the Pentagon.) And if he can’t be bothered to learn much about government, he has an all-purpose rationale: “I would choose common sense over knowledge in almost every circumstance,” he wrote. It’s just too much to ask for both.
Carson, who is poised to be 2016’s premier novelty act, is already following the script from Cain’s 2012 Republican presidential run. He is a successful black man who tells conservative white audiences that there are no meaningful structural impediments to success: There are only character failings. That should be enough to keep him on the stage, at least until the Iowa caucuses.
By: Francis Wilkinson, Ten Miles Square, Washington Monthly, October 15, 2014
“Conservatism Is Too Big For Its Own Good”: The Right No Longer Understands The Difference Between The Movement And The Party
There’s a moment every year at the Conservative Political Action Conference when some eminence from the 1970s talks about the good old days at CPAC, hearkening back to the time when Ronald Reagan would show up and speak to a a small room of only about 500 activists. Things have changed. Now there are about 500 journalists who get registered to report on CPAC, which has bloated to some 10,000 participants in the fat years.
Maybe conservatism is just too big for its own good.
The conservative movement has grown large because it aspired to be something greater than a part of the Republican coalition. It wanted to become the entirety of the GOP. Instead of splitting into different interest groups, the conservative movement devises ad-hoc philosophies to integrate single-issue advocates into a larger coalition. You’re not just for low taxes or against abortion, you’re a conservative!
In this sense, the conservative movement has become a kind of parallel institution that drains resources, attention, talent, and energy from the GOP’s own electoral and governing efforts. Conservative Inc. is an enterprise with enough resources and power to be an attractive alternative to America’s official institutions of electoral power.
If you are a Republican politician and don’t have the wherewithal to become president of the United States, perhaps you have enough talent to become president of Conservatism. It’s an unofficial position, but has plenty of benefits. You won’t have the psychic pleasures of representing the electoral will of the American public, but you also won’t be burdened by any real responsibilities either.
Naturally, the idea of being a player without responsibility provides more attractions for charlatans, rabble-rousers, and opportunists.
Shades of this phenomena began in the 1990s presidential primaries. Whereas Pat Buchanan picked a principled fight with his party over issues like trade and foreign policy, candidates like Alan Keyes ran less for president than for publicity: mailing lists filled out, speaking fees increased, and radio shows picked up on more networks.
By the 2012 Republican primaries, it was obvious that there were in fact two competitions happening on the same debate stages. Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and even Newt Gingrich were not running for president in the same way that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were.
This seems not to happen in the Democratic primaries. Sure, 2004 saw Howard Dean emerge as the leader of “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” But there is no parallel universe called Liberalism where he and Mike Gravel could become well-paid industries unto themselves as think leaders, book hawkers, and distinguished dinner guests. Dean became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a political job with actual responsibilities and geared toward winning elections, not just flame wars.
The composition of the Democratic coalition seems stronger precisely because it is more splintered and more issue driven. No one is afraid that Planned Parenthood or the teachers’ unions are going to impose a broad-ranging ideological revolution on the nation. The public assumes that they will simply lobby for their particular, limited interests and that the party to which they belong will have a moderating effect on them.
But the conservative movement really is large enough to exert a destabilizing gravitational force on the entire political culture. Its opponents fear that its size and strength make the GOP immoderate. And they may be right.
In any GOP presidential primary, the candidates who are running to be unofficial head of the conservative movement can do a great deal of damage to the GOP’s eventual nominee. They can pressure the eventual candidate to over-commit to the right in the primary race, essentially handing them more baggage to carry in the general election. Or they can cripple the eventual primary winner by highlighting the nominee’s deviations from the movement, dispiriting the GOP’s base of voters.
When the attendees of CPAC gather in Washington early next month and conduct their presidential straw poll with the self importance of a warning shot, it might profit them to consider whether they intend to elect a new president of their ideological ghetto or one for their nation.
By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, February 26, 2014
As a notable Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain was able to pull together an email list of several hundred thousand people. His campaign obviously didn’t turn out well, but Cain eventually created an online media venture called Best of Cain, which continues to send out messages to former supporters on a wide range of topics.
How wide a range? Those on Cain’s mailing list recently received an alert with an all-caps subject line about a “breakthrough remedy” for erectile dysfunction. It was, of course, an ad – and a rather clumsy one at that. Cain supporters were told they were at risk of losing their loved one unless they got their “manhood mojo back.”
For many of us, it would appear as if Herman Cain has begun spamming Americans who supported his presidential campaign. But as Ben Adler reports in a fascinating piece, Cain and other Republicans believe they’ve come up with a lucrative business plan.
While [Cain] has been particularly unabashed in his embrace of the practice, he is not the only past presidential candidate hawking sketchy products. Newt Gingrich now pings the e-mail subscribers to his Gingrich Productions with messages from an investment firm formed by a conspiracy theorist successfully sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mike Huckabee uses his own production company’s list to blast out links to heart-disease fixes and can’t-miss annuities.
The joke about Cain and Gingrich during the 2012 campaign was that they weren’t at all serious about their pursuits of the presidency but instead just lining up future paydays. After Huckabee, who’d parlayed a strong showing in 2008 into publishing deals and his own Fox News show, declined to run again, some wags snickered that his new livelihood must have been too hard to give up. Now all three seem to be proving the cynics right…. Collectively, Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee are pioneering a new, more direct method for post-campaign buckraking. All it requires is some digitally savvy accomplices – and a total immunity to shame.
There’s a reason I love this Chris Hayes comment from a while back: “Much of movement conservatism is a con and the base are the marks.”
One of the striking things about the ventures launched by Cain, Gingrich, and Huckabee is the odd incentive dynamic they’ve helped create: political activities that used to be based on partisanship, ideology, and/or ego are now profit-making opportunities.
A Republican may not have any interest in actually becoming president, but he or she now knows that a presidential campaign can create a lucrative mailing list. So why not run anyway for the sake of future paychecks?
It’s not just elections, either. Last summer, for example, as conservatives prepared for their government shutdown, Brian Walsh, a former spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “[T]his is about political cash, not political principle.” Far-right groups were getting the base riled up, collecting contributions and email addresses, and weren’t especially concerned with the policy outcome.
More recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made the rounds on conservative media, talking up a possible lawsuit he might file against the NSA. In practice, the senator was encouraging interested Americans to visit his campaign website, submit their contact information, and chip in a donation while they were there. (The lawsuit he vowed to file hasn’t materialized.)
At the intersection of politics and profit is a Republican machine in search of email addresses, clicks, and cash. It’s not that conservative causes are irrelevant; it’s just that they’re hardly the only motivation for GOP players as interested in list-building as coalition-building.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 28, 2014