At CPAC, Dr. Ben Carson Leaves Race, Vows to ‘Be Heavily Involved’

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during CPAC 2016 March 5, 2016 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Dr. Ben Carson personally ended his campaign for the Republican nomination at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Amid applause and a standing ovation, Dr. Carson said he plans to “be heavily involved in trying to save our nation.”

“I know there’s a lot of people who love me,” Carson said addressing his decision. “They just won’t vote for me. It’s okay.”

Carson’s announcement came in the middle of his remarks to CPAC, the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists. If fact, it was almost an off-the-cuff remark.

Carson walked out from the podium and said, “now that I am leaving the campaign trail,” in the middle of a discussion about the size of government. While the news itself was expected, the delivery of it caught the audience by suprise.

It was an understated, non-announcement, announcement and it took the audience several beats to understand the implications of what Carson was saying. Carson walked deliberately, hands interlocked, facing downward.

As the audience absorbed the fact that Carson had just officially ended his Presidential campaign, they applauded and gave him a standing ovation.

It was, in many ways, the appropriate coda to the Carson campaign. It was after his well-received speech at CPAC last year that Carson’s possible run for the White House began attracting serious attention.

His speech last year laid out a modern-day conscience of a conservative, with a strong emphasis on opportunity and individual liberty. Carson then spoke powerfully about the scourge of government dependence and intrusiveness in our lives.

Carson is warm, intelligent, thoughtful and deliberate. He comes across as a sincere patriot, called to public service rather than a public career. Even today, with anemic overall poll numbers, Carson has the highest personal favorability ratings of any candidate in either party.

His candidacy, though, doesn’t mesh with the tenor of the times. Carson was one of the clear frontrunners for the Republican nomination until the terrorist attacks in Paris and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino. Voters suddenly wanted a candidate who was a little more certain and a few degrees outwardly tougher.

As voter anxieties rose about a chaotic world and softening economy, they also became a lot angrier with Washington and the nation’s political leadership. Carson is not a candidate for a voter who is angry.

Beyond that, Carson’s passive announcement of the end of his campaign revealed deeper problems that plagued his candidacy. Earlier this week, Carson announced that he didn’t see a “path to victory” and would not attend the Republican debate in Detroit.

After the media understandably interpreted this to mean he was ending his candidacy, the Carson campaign rushed out an announcement that they were simply taking a break from the campaign. They weren’t officially suspending his race for the nomination.

The episode recalled the brief confusion at the start of the Iowa caucus, when the Carson campaign told reporters he would be going home to Florida instead of traveling on to New Hampshire once the Iowa vote was over. This too was briefly interpreted to mean he was suspending his campaign.

Almost until his speech Friday, the Carson campaign insisted they hadn’t yet decided to suspend the presidential campaign. Immediately before the speech, the campaign said that Carson would now head up a grass roots initiative working to increase turnout among Christians in November.

It was only then that Carson ended his campaign, midway through his speech. Even the delivery of the announcement, though, suggested they still weren’t quite willing to admit that the campaign was over.

The closest Carson came was to say he was “leaving the campaign trail.”

In uncertain times, voters seek clarity above almost anything else from a candidate. Even if they disagree, they value simple, declaritive statements that leave little ambiguity about a candidate’s meaning.

The very manner that Carson announced the end of his campaign is itself the reason it had to end.