Is Ben Carson Really a Viable Presidential Candidate?

Posted February 10, 2015 at 4:02am
Elections 2016
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just because something has not happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.

Barack Obama and Barry Goldwater proved that point, and Hillary Rodham Clinton could soon be added to the list. Could Ben Carson, as well?

There has been plenty of chatter about Carson and his potential presidential run, from sympathetic pieces on the right to apoplectic pieces on the left. Handicappers have weighed in as well, generally dismissing his prospects. I did much the same thing in last week’s column.

But should we be taking Carson more seriously as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination? Has the party changed so much over the past few decades — and is Carson uniquely qualified — that he should be treated as a plausible contender?

A graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School, Carson’s personal story is compelling. Though he was born into poverty, he became a highly regarded surgeon who directed pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

Carson, 63, retired as a surgeon in early 2013 and has been increasingly outspoken on political issues. He gives every indication of running for the Republican presidential nomination next year.

As someone who has never held, or even sought, elective office, Carson easily fills the profile of a true outsider. Many Republican hopefuls will run against Washington, D.C., and politics-as-usual, but they will be sitting or former officeholders who sound and act like politicians.

The former surgeon sounds more authentic than your average politician, and his willingness to identify himself as “not politically correct” is both a credential that separates him from other candidates and an appealing message that resonates with conservative Republicans.

Carson’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 showed him to be a gifted and compelling speaker who understands the use of humor and storytelling in getting and keeping an audience’s attention. Many of his TV interviews (including recent ones about the importance of vaccinations for children) show him to be serious and intense, yet invariably low-key.

Carson’s race makes him unique in the GOP field, and increases his appeal to conservatives who want to prove to liberals they are not racially bigoted.

Moreover, the former neurosurgeon is well-liked by conservative media hosts, who have become a significant force within the Republican Party.

Talk show host Mark Levin has said Carson “would be a superb president,” and asserted, “He’s a hundred times more qualified than Barack Obama ever was.” Rush Limbaugh has defended Carson repeatedly from criticism, and Sean Hannity has given Carson plenty of attention on his Fox show.