Dr. Ben Carson is in the 2016 presidential race to do two things: chew bubble gum, and destroy media narratives. And he’s all out of bubble gum.
Carson is an outsider, an amateur politician, who makes all sorts of mistakes according to conventional analysis… but he’s beating Hillary Clinton by 10 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
Carson is an unassuming black man – he doesn’t aggressively push racial issues or use his own racial identity as a cudgel, he has no organized identity groups pushing him, and he’s picking up static from the usual suspects on the Left who think his ideology erases his genetics, making him an inauthentic “Uncle Tom.” And yet, he’s either in the lead, or tied for the lead, to win the presidential nomination of the supposedly racist Republican Party.
Democrats love to say that Republicans only care about greedy rich people, and don’t understand either poverty or “working families.” Carson is crushing Clinton on poll questions concerning empathy, character, and understanding middle-class life.
He has accomplished this almost entirely by talking… and the soft-spoken doctor doesn’t exactly hog the stage during televised debates. Donald Trump is said to have captured an early lead by rallying angry, disaffected voters looking for a fight, with both Democrats and the unsatisfactory Republican establishment. Where will the Angry People For Ben Carson march be held?
The latest polls have Carson tied, or even slightly beating, Hillary Clinton among women. Not only does this turn sexual identity politics on its head, and throw a major wrench into the gears of the Democrats’ vaunted “single women married to the State” voting machine, but Carson is also very strongly pro-life. He’s had a few bumps with the pro-life community in the past, but as things stand, he is arguably the most dedicated and articulate pro-lifer ever to top the polls. He recently said that he not only wishes to overturn Roe v. Wade because it’s bad law, but he wants abortion restricted nationwide, with high standards for “life of the mother” exceptions, and argued passionately for the right to life for children born of rape and incest.
Carson has also experienced a few bumps with gun-rights advocates, but he went on to pick a huge fight with the media over the Second Amendment… and he won. It’s great fun to watch pugnacious orators like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio (who got the line of the night with his “media is Hillary’s Super PAC” slam at the CNBC debate) tackle biased media, but it’s worth noting that Carson seems able to beat them without actually arguing with them. He just says his piece, and people agree with him.
Republicans are supposed to run away from social issues, leaving the field to the Left, which is not at all shy about using massive government power to inflict social engineering schemes on a captive population. Carson discusses social issues quite frequently. In fact, you could sum up his ideology by saying he believes social and economic issues to be inextricably linked. This is, after all, the man who entered the political stage by proposing a low, flat tax rate modeled after religious tithing… right after Barack Obama expounded on his belief that the Bible commands Christians to pay higher taxes to all-knowing government, which he sees as the fountain of all national virtue.
To put one last bit of conventional wisdom to bed, the October media freak-out about Carson allegedly “suspending” his campaign to cash in on a book tour certainly didn’t hurt either his poll numbers or fundraising, which comes largely through small donors.
It could be said that the preliminaries of the campaign are over, and the year of the presidential race has truly begun. It remains to be seen if Ben Carson’s approach to campaigning will prevail over the long haul. But he’s definitely more than a flash in the pan or flavor of the moment. He didn’t just enjoy a brief poll bump after a single good performance, as with so many of the “not-Romneys” in 2012. He’s everything a Republican candidate is not supposed to be, and he’s doing just fine.