Friday, December 11, 2015

Ben Carson - The Ultimate Outsider

While the surprising rise and persistence of Donald Trump has been the story of the year in Republican politics, Trump’s candidacy was not completely unforeseen. Trump has been involved in national politics for decades, taking positions on a variety of issues and working with officeholders from both parties. Though often considered as a candidate in past presidential elections, he has declined to seek a major party’s nomination until this year.

If he wins in the primaries, Trump will not be the first businessman with no experience in government to be nominated for president – Republican Wendell Willkie was nominated under similar circumstances in 1940, and though he lost to Franklin Roosevelt, the election was decided by a smaller margin than any of the previous five presidential contests.

Although Trump’s campaign is fueled by anti-establishment anger, his long history of political involvement, especially with Hillary Clinton, preclude him from ever running as a true outsider. That distinction instead belongs to a much more bizarre candidacy – that of Dr. Ben Carson.

Ben Carson is the ultimate outsider. Like Trump, Carson appeals to those who are frustrated with the current political system and who entertain dreams of sending an outsider to Washington to clean it up. Like Trump, Carson has never held public office. Neither candidate is taken seriously by the Republican Establishment. But Carson differs from Trump in many significant ways.

In order to evaluate Carson’s potential as the leader of the next generation of conservatives, it is necessary to look at three questions. First, how is he different from all other candidates? Second, why is he popular? And third, how can he be expected to handle future political pressures?

We can learn a lot about a candidate by looking at his or her endorsements. While writing this article, I studied the endorsement profiles of the eight candidates who made the most recent prime-time debate – Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Bush, Fiorina, Kasich, and Paul – counting the number of current and former United States Senators, Representatives, Governors, and State Legislators who have declared their endorsement for each candidate.

Jeb Bush was in the lead among endorsements by Senators (14), Representatives (38), and Governors (11), which is rather unsurprising due to his family background and long history of connections with the party Establishment. Fellow Establishment champion John Kasich came in second, with Rubio in third place and Cruz in fourth.

However, among state legislators, Cruz is in the lead with 151 endorsements to Bush’s 131 and Kasich’s 137. As a fierce critic of the party’s establishment and the big-government Republicans who control both houses of Congress, it’s little wonder that Cruz is feared and disliked by many who walk the corridors of power in Washington. Nevertheless, state legislators, who are far closer to the people they represent, are generally supportive of Cruz.

In the endorsement primary, Rand Paul comes in fifth place, Carly Fiorina in sixth, and Donald Trump in seventh. While the majority of experienced office-holders in both political parties are either terrified of or disgusted by Trump, he has nevertheless earned the endorsement of former Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia and 22 state legislators.

And in last place there is Ben Carson, who has been endorsed by four state legislators, and not a single Senator, Representative, or Governor. While a certain amount separation from the Establishment may be desirable in a candidate, it is downright bizarre that one of the most popular candidates for a nation’s highest office is not supported by any prominent members of its government.

It seems, therefore, that Carson’s major difference from the other candidates is his total lack of political credentials or a political history. Carson had no significant involvement in national politics until his famous speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in early 2013, less than three years ago! In that brief time, Carson has made a name for himself by criticizing the current administration, mainly on Obamacare, which he has called “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

Ben Carson’s complete lack of political experience, and his fierce and unapologetic criticism of the current regime, qualify him as the ultimate outsider. In a year when most voters seem to prefer outsiders, this has served him well thus far. According to the latest results from Public Policy Polling, Carson is currently at 19%, behind only Trump, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have 14% and 13%, respectively, and no one else exceeds 5%.

Why then is Carson so popular? He is, first of all, an outsider – he appeals to voters who feel that they have been betrayed by career politicians in both parties, and see the election of a president with no connection to the political system as the only way to effect positive change. Second, he says the things that his base wants to hear – in this he is similar to Trump, and while the two men differ in style, much of their substance is the same. Third, Ben Carson is nice.

Ben Carson has earned a place in our hearts as the nicest candidate. (His favorability rating, according to Public Policy Polling, is +37, higher than any opponent’s.) Carson is a soft-spoken man, who overcame a background of poverty and racial discrimination to become a world-renowned surgeon, saving hundreds of lives over the course of his illustrious. His remarkable success story has earned him universal respect. And now he seems to have embraced conservative ideology in its entirety.

Ben Carson is universally liked and admired, and accordingly he has benefited from a significant polling boom at this early point in the season. Nevertheless, his lack of political experience or credentials should be a cause for suspicion – can he be and do what he says he will be and do? Can he accomplish the things that true conservatives desire from a president? Thus the third question, how can Ben Carson be expected to handle political pressure?

At this point, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty what kind of a president Carson would be. He has no political history. All politicians begin as outsiders, but sad experience has shown that most of them, upon taking office, abandon the principles on which they were elected and fall in with the bipartisan Establishment, serving the interests of political class rather than the people whom they represent. While there is no reason to question Carson’s character, at a trying time like this, good intentions are hardly enough. The only candidate that can be trusted to fight the establishment is one who has fought the establishment, and Carson, with his total lack of experience, is not that candidate.

Ben Carson is running for president as celebrity, gaining support because he is universally liked and respected for of his many great accomplishments in the medical field. And while neurosurgery may be a more honorable profession than that of a celebrity musician, actor, or athlete, it is not any more relevant to the duties of the President of the United States. Carson has provided conservatives with an inspiring story and strong rhetoric, but so far he has done nothing to show that he is ready for national leadership.

Ben Carson’s political views are, in effect, the views of a child. The brevity of his involvement in politics means that he lacks the essential experience of hearing challenges to his opinions and refining his views as he comes into contact with more people and ideologies. Much that he believes is admirable, but at this point, his understanding of the issues is too shallow to withstand serious criticism.

Consider the comments Carson made last spring, when asked by a reporter whether he believed that sexual orientation is a choice. “Absolutely,” said Carson. “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” Later that day, Carson apologized and rescinded his statement.

Whether Carson’s statement is accurate is of secondary importance – what matters here is that, as soon as he realized that what he had said was very controversial, he changed his mind about the issue. Carson did something similar when pressed over a comment to the effect that Obamacare was worse than slavery, explaining that what he actually meant was that Obamacare was worse than 9/11. Holding unusual political opinions that melt away at the first sign of criticism is something one would expect from a precocious youth, but hardly from a presidential candidate.

If nominated for President, Ben Carson would likely change his views many times in his struggle to win acceptance with wider blocs of voters. If he could overcome his unfamiliarity with the political process and actually become the next president, Americans could look forward to four years of unpredictable rule with their callow commander-in-chief repeatedly reversing his positions in a futile attempt to bring harmony to the disparate interests that govern Washington. In the end, Carson would prove to be an unprecedentedly weak president, as his good intentions and expert knowledge of neurosurgery could do nothing to take actual policy decisions out of the hands of ill-disposed men in both parties whose political acumen far exceeds Carson’s feeble talents.

Ben Carson may be the most likeable of the candidates now vying for the presidency. He may have the most inspiring personal history. And he is certainly the ultimate outsider. But, in the end, these are not the qualities that the conservative movement – or the nation – needs in a leader. The battle lines are drawn, the enemy will broke with no compromise, and our side could do nothing worse than to choose an inexperienced commander. Ben Carson is an honorable man with good intentions, and conservatives are fortunate to have him on their side. Nevertheless, he is not, at this time, ready to take on the unique duties and challenges of the Presidency.

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