It all began, oddly enough, at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast. The gathering is supposed to feature a bipartisan group of speakers, each of whom are expected to avoid partisan attacks and explicitly political speeches, but neurosurgeon Ben Carson used his time at the dais to condemn the Affordable Care Act, with President Obama a few feet away.
The right made no effort to hide its glee, ensuring that the video of Carson’s remarks went viral. The retired physician, almost immediately, became a Fox News regular and a frequent guest on Sunday shows. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, one of the more unflinching Republican strongholds in American media, began encouraging Carson to run for president.
All of which leads us to today’s campaign kickoff two years after his rise to political prominence.
Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson confirmed Sunday evening to a local television station that he will seek the Republican nomination for president, the Associated Press reported.“I’m willing to be part of the equation and therefore, I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America,” Carson said in a pre-recorded interview with Ohio’s WKRC. Carson is set to make a formal announcement Monday in Detroit.
It will be Carson’s first attempt at any elected office. He has never served in government at any level.
Carson’s total lack of qualifications, knowledge, and relevant skills may not be a problem in a Republican primary. In fact, in many conservative circles, running as an “outsider” against “career politicians” is a plus, which may help explain why Carson is already roughly in the middle of the crowded GOP field, ahead of well-known, experienced contenders like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.
The question is whether the right-wing neurosurgeon can parlay his status as a cause celebre into a top-tier presidential candidacy. There’s ample reason for skepticism.
For example, Carson seems largely unfamiliar with the basics of current events. GQ recently profiled the Republican doctor under the headline, “What If Sarah Palin Were a Brain Surgeon?” In the piece, Carson was asked to name his favorite secretary of the treasury. He eventually replied, “Andrea Mitchell’s husband.”
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, of course, is married to Alan Greenspan – the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who has never been the Treasury secretary.
The same piece noted Carson’s trip to Israel, where he seemed surprised to discover that Israel has a legislative branch.
The article was published around the time Carson did another interview in which he seemed confused about NATO and suggested violence among Islamic radicals dates back several centuries before Islam even existed.
At the time, he denounced the importance of “little details.”
What’s more, interest in Carson as a credible national candidate began to fade a bit when he shared some rather crackpot views on social policy. Two years ago Carson compared gay people to “NAMBLA [and] people who believe in bestiality.” After initially flubbing an apology and blaming critics for quoting him accurately, the Republican personality eventually walked back his comments. Carson’s reputation hasn’t been the same since.
Carson certainly hasn’t done much to bolster his own reputation, equating modern American life with Nazi Germany. He’s said health care reform is the worst thing to happen in the United States since slavery. During the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, Carson said political correctness contributed to Michael Brown’s death, blamed “the women’s lib movement” for violence in the streets, and said those who protested the Ferguson shooting reminded him of Hamas.
Soon after, reflecting on the controversies surrounding his over-the-top language, Carson told Republican National Committee members, “I stand by those” remarks, adding. “I don’t think there’s anything crazy at all.”
As a candidate for national office, he’s likely to keep sharing ridiculous thoughts, which may endear him to some GOP factions, but which probably creates a ceiling for his presidential ambitions.