Republican presidential candidate retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson answers questions at the Commonwealth Club public affairs forum Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in San Francisco.
Photo by Eric Risberg/AP

The rise of the other inexperienced, unqualified candidate

The Republican establishment couldn’t have been pleased by the latest national Monmouth poll. It found that one inexperienced, unqualified candidate, who’s never served a day in public office and who has a habit of making outrageous comments, had more support than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio combined.
The candidate, of course, was Ben Carson.
In fact, in Iowa, the latest NBC/Marist poll also showed the retired neurosurgeon with as much support as Bush, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, and Huckabee put together.
It’s hardly a secret that Donald Trump has dominated the race for the Republican nomination in recent months, but Carson’s steady rise into the GOP’s top tier is every bit as bizarre. In fact, most recent polling shows Carson as the most well liked candidate in the Republican field, and in one instance, the only GOP candidate who’d defeat Trump in a one-on-one match-up.
MSNBC’s Jane C. Timm reported the other day on Carson’s role as the “stealth candidate.”
In a primary where Trump’s bombast and braggadocio have given him indefatigable popularity, Carson’s contrasting humility and soft-spoken demeanor – paired with his outsider credibility and far-right views – has wowed voters across the country.
“Ben Carson may be the perfect answer to people who are sick and tired of traditional politics and the politicians that practice it, but without the pomp and arrogance of Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Rich Gallen told msnbc. “He’s got Jeb’s thoughtfulness and Trump’s outsiderness.”
In the abstract, this was hard to predict. Carson, running in his first-ever campaign for public office, doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. His policy pronouncements are often bizarre. He’s personally participated in fetal-tissue research, and struggled to explain his research. He’s struggled repeatedly with the basics of current events. His campaign operation has been a chaotic mess.
And yet, at least for now, Republican voters don’t seem to mind. Carson has the perfect combination of inexperience, radicalism, and temperament.
We’ll learn soon enough whether Carson’s support is sustainable, but FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver argued this week that Carson “is a little bit different from the ‘flavor-of-the-month’ candidates from 2011. At least in terms of his demeanor, he’s much less bombastic than someone like Gingrich or Bachmann. And he has a much more compelling life story – it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a heroic life story.”
Nate’s colleague, Harry Enten, added that Carson has a better chance of actually winning the GOP nomination, in part because he’s “better-liked by Republican voters,” but also because Carson is “better-liked by party actors,” too.