Alastair Campbell, who used to be the spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy for former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has give his verdict on potential Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson.
Mr. Campbell (pictured above), who used to be a tabloid journalist, has written for Politico about meeting Dr. Carson. The two men came together in the CBS Green Room prior to television interviews. The reaction of the British Labour Party operative was as dismissive as one would expect from a European progressive:
“Fair to say I did not feel inspired from our encounter. We talked about gun control, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. On guns, I was shocked by his views, and on Putin, felt his analysis could have come from a tenth grade politics student.”
It was not all criticism, Mr. Campbell was at pains to say Dr. Carson “seemed pleasant enough as a human being” and even praised his vocation, saying he “clearly has a good brain if he is allowed to operate on the brains of others”. He was, however, unable to comprehend how Dr. Carson has risen to prominence in the Republican Party: “…but really, this guy is one of the frontrunners for your country’s Republican nomination?”
It is fair to say that Mr. Campbell does know something about winning elections. He helped Tony Blair lead Britain’s left-of-centre New Labour Party to what was for them an unprecedented three general election victories in a row. Since then he has freelanced overseas and in Britain, advising election campaigns including the Socialist Party of Albania’s victory run in 2013.
Mr. Campbell is not an uncritical supporter of the left (“…I have concerns that [British Labour Leader Jeremy] Corbyn’s shift to the left—a few months after the country as a whole rejected Labour in part because we were seen as too left-wing already—will make it harder to win over the country in a general election…”) but his sympathies clearly lie with the Democratic Party.
He wrote about the American politicisation of gun control and climate change from a predictably European stance, stating:
“How these two issues have become so politicized is truly baffling to most people in Europe, where the consensus is that guns are a force for bad not good, and though there can be arguments about the scale of the threat to our world from climate change, that man-made climate change exists is agreed by all but an oddball minority.
“To hear Republican nomination candidate Dr. Ben Carson suggesting the Holocaust might not have happened had the Jews been able to defend themselves with guns—where do you even start? As for climate change, the polarized culture means that politics drowns out science to an extent that—not to put too fine a point on it—puts the future of the planet at considerable risk. In the book I was promoting I write about the tendency of politicians to use data not to devise thought-through policy and challenge their own opinions, but for confirmation bias. The climate change deniers in the U.S have this confirmation bias down to a fine, and dangerous, art.”
It was his further analysis of the Presidential nomination process, offering the perspective of a professional observer, which was more interesting. Mr. Campbell says the Republican Party “appears incapable of uniting around either ideas or a leader” continuing:
“The strong strand of anti-Washington, anti-government opinion is what has led to the three front-runners, non-politicians Carson, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, occupying the forefront.
“In the prevailing anti-politics mood, being an outsider is a huge advantage. But am I alone in worrying that the total lack of executive political experience of all three is a problem? Building up a business empire, operating on the human brain, and being a company executive, these all require certain skills. But I am not convinced any of them necessarily qualify you for the challenges that will greet the next President…
“…[Trump], Carson and Fiorina are all benefiting from the anti-politics mood, and Trump in particular—like Sanders on the other side of the divide—from the anger of men and women who feel the benefits of globalization have passed them by in favor of elites. But America needs to be careful what it wishes for. People can feel free to dismiss political experience, but if you are up against a Putin or a Xi Jinping or a Netanyahu, let alone facing up to terrorist organizations intent on destroying you, this experience can come in handy. With Jeb Bush fading somewhat, if Marco Rubio can step up, stay focused on the big challenges, and break through the noise, the nomination is his for the taking—at least once Trump blows up and Carson says a few more silly things.”
Mr. Campbell also offers a wider perspective on the Presidential campaign as a whole, passing comment on Bernie Sanders (“many States are not looking for a socialist from Brooklyn to be commander-in-chief”) and Joe Biden (“who could certainly complicate things for Clinton”) before concluding:
“Hillary has strength, resilience and experience, all good winning qualities. But she also needs to remember the words of her husband’s campaign theme song: Don’t-Stop-Thinking-About-Tomorrow. She needs to own the future, not just have a record to defend from the past. And she needs to get heard…
“Let the media gorge on the tactics. But the candidate who best ignores the noise, stays true to a strong strategy, and drives that strategy forward, is the one who will be best placed to win. And they will deserve to.
“As to what that means for a possible outcome, I am going for Clinton vs. Rubio, with Hillary as the eventual winner. Then again, I predicted she would win last time, and Barack Obama proved her, me and a lot of other people wrong.”