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Friday, July 17, 2015

Candidate Profile: #8. Ben Carson

For background to this series, click here. For previous posts in the series:

Tier 4--They Know They Can't Win

Tier 3--We Know They Can't Win

Tier 2--So You're Saying There's a Chance!

We're halfway done. It's worth noting that all candidates who have previously run for president have already shown up on this list. The second half will be comprised of new presidential candidates.

Our first member of the Elite Eight is . . .

Ben Carson, 63, Neurosurgeon

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.bencarson.com--"Heal. Inspire. Revive."

PPFA Slogan--"Talented. Doctor. President?"

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): +4.5 (Individual rights: +9; domestic issues: +5; economy: +5; foreign policy: -1). Whoa, a negative number! A small one, but a negative one nonetheless. That anomalous figure really throws off the average of what is by all accounts a very politically conservative individual. His total lack of experience in government probably means his foreign policy figure was always going to be close to zero. He admits to being a novice in the area, and a quote like the following edges him left: "We cannot afford insinuating ourselves into every conflict around the globe. One only need look to the history of the Roman Empire to learn significant lessons about what happens when military forces are stretched too thin."

Conservative Rank based on above:
 11 of 16. That really feels too low for him, even in a conservative field. I'm guessing with campaign advisers eventually clarifying his foreign policy message and hawking it up, he could easily find his conservatism in the top half of this field.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--America is sick, she needs a doctor, and Ben Carson has the cure. Dr. Carson offers the story of the American Dream, and growing up as an urban black youth, his take on that story is unique in this field. He was born to a single mother in inner Detroit. She topped out at a third grade education, but that didn't stop young Ben; he worked hard in high school, attended Yale, went to Michigan University's School of Medicine, and then became a neurosurgeon at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. His prestigious career included unprecedented surgeries and numerous awards and honors. He went on to become a bestselling author who did not shy away from sharing his political views. In 2013, he became a breakout star in conservative circles. Starting with his speech at the February National Prayer Breakfast--with President Obama mere feet away--he spoke conservatively about issues like taxation, health care, education, and political correctness. The very next day, the Wall Street Journal ran a column called "Ben Carson for President." Conservative talking heads--Limbaugh, Hannity, Cavato, and others--couldn't stop talking about him. A "Run Ben Run" draft movement gained steam. Throughout the year, people put the pieces together--he was for traditional marriage, opposed to evolution, and interpreted homosexuality as a choice. He wasn't just conservative; he was extremely conservative. By year's end, he had the most famous quote of his life: "Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery." Conservatives have fawned over him ever since, as seen with his consistently strong polling (more on that below). And on top of all these conservative traits, Ben Carson hits the aesthetics out of the park. He's an articulate African American with a poor background who could bridge the gap from the GOP to blacks across the nation. It's hard for an old white man to tell the inner city citizens why conservative policies could help them. But Ben Carson, who emerged from their situation, could pull it off. He's a total Washington and even government outsider, ready to bring real change to the broken political machine. Paging Dr. Carson . . . paging Dr. Carson . . . you're needed in the Oval Office, stat!

Spin from opponents--Not one candidate in this field--not one--is less prepared to be president. He hasn't governed so much as a town, nor has he dealt with matters of American policy in Congress. He's never served in the military. He hasn't ever run for office to learn the political skills crucial in a president. He hasn't run big businesses, managing thousands of people while balancing short and long term goals and using the skills of negotiation and compromise. His skills on a medical table are undeniable, but are they transferable? This isn't just any political office on which he could cut his teeth before making a jump. It's a leap directly from the O.R. to the Oval Office. Most frightening, he'd be thrown into the position of Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world. His recent stumbles regarding foreign policy have shown the natural naivety and rawness that comes from being a man who hasn't spent a day in elected office or foreign affairs. Can we really turn the keys to the Situation Room over to such a man?

How do the polls look?--His RCP national average is 7.6, good enough for fifth place. In fact, he's been in the top five dating back to last year and has seen double figures in over a dozen polls. In fact, his RCP average was over 10 until the Trump surge of the last few polls took points from all the leaders. (Marco Rubio is especially reeling.) In Iowa, his numbers are almost identical--7.5 and fifth place.  Again, he's been entrenched in the top five for quite some time there. In New Hampshire he's averaging 5.5 for sixth place, and in South Carolina he's at 7.7 for fifth place, including a 12-point showing in its latest poll, trailing only native son #15 Lindsey Graham. In May of this year, he won the meaningful Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll. He's polling like a top five candidate across the board. Only a couple other candidates in the field can say that.

PPFA a
nalysis--And yet, he's only ranked eighth at industry-leading, internet-breaking Presidential Politics for America. What gives? This analysis will be short: the love affair that Republicans have with Ben Carson will end at the voting booth. Will a requisite amount of Republicans really pull the lever next to his name and help a doctor with no political or military experience become the Commander-in-Chief of the world's most powerful and active military? I just don't see it. For many reasons it's pleasurable to call one's self a Ben Carson supporter, but that support will end when the curtain closes behind them.

PPFA nomination rank--8 of 16 (Odds: 20:1). It's worth nothing that Carson and the next three candidates are razor close and often change in my mind week to week, but I don't see myself moving him up again. All seven people above him on the list have held major, state-wide elected office. Still, his poll numbers have just been too good and consistent to keep him out of the top half of this field. It's not out of possibility's realm that he brings in a team of big-named neoconservative advisers that point him in the right direction (pun), soothing the fears of the Republican electorate who might then reason that even though he could have his finger on the button, someone experienced will be telling him if he should press it.

PPFA general election rank
--8 of 16.  If he does get the nomination, it will be interesting to see to what extent African Americans desert the Democratic Party to help put another African American in the White House. They voted for Barack Obama at an abnormally high 95 percent clip in 2008 and 93 percent four years later.  I think there's a decent shot that Carson can sell the conservative message to them better than any Republican candidate has since Rutherford B. Hayes, and if he can erode that support by double digits, the Republican Electoral Map can be significantly expanded. That qualifies him for the top half of the field, but the concerns raised above don't get him past the more moderate Republicans ranked above him here.

Seven to go! See you in two days.

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