Ben Carson watches as Donald Trump takes the stage during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado, Oct. 28, 2015, in Boulder, Colo.
Photo by Mark J. Terrill/AP

Why Ben Carson’s cabinet nomination matters

Just last week, retired neurosurgeon and failed presidential candidate Ben Carson said something unexpected: he didn’t want to be a member of Donald Trump’s presidential cabinet. Carson told the Washington Post he preferred to “work from the outside and not from the inside,” and not be pigeonholed into one particular area.”

Carson added, “Having me as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water, quite frankly.” Armstrong Williams, a leading Carson confidant, told NBC’s Pete Williams that Carson made clear to Trump that the retired physician doesn’t have the experience to run a federal bureaucracy.

And yet, there was the president-elect yesterday, announcing on Twitter that he’s “seriously considering” Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). As Politico reported, Trump has apparently already extended the cabinet offer.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said on Tuesday that he’d had multiple “offers on the table” for positions in the incoming Trump administration, including secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I would say that was one of the offers that is on the table,” the retired neurosurgeon told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto of the possibility that he is being considered for the top job at HUD.
In the Fox interview, Carson reflected on his qualifications for the position. “I know that I grew up in the inner city,” he said. “And have spent a lot of time there. And have dealt with a lot of patients from that area.”

Even by 2016 standards, this is very hard to take seriously.

Carson has literally no background in housing policy, urban development, or running a large organization. In fact, as recently as last week, he said he didn’t even want to try. The fact that Carson would even consider accepting a job for which he’s completely unqualified is bizarre.

But while Carson’s possible role in a presidential cabinet is problematic, the fact that Trump would extend such an offer speaks volumes about his approach to his presidential responsibilities.

Timothy B. Lee explained last week, “After eight years of the hyper-technocratic Obama presidency, we’re about to get an administration where expertise is taken a lot less seriously, while personal loyalty to Donald Trump will be seen as much more important.”

That’s being charitable. What’s been clear since Election Day is that Trump doesn’t believe qualifications, expertise, or relevant experience matter in almost any way. The president-elect has no governing experience; his White House chief of staff has no governing experience; his chief strategist has no governing experience; so it stands to reason that he’d see Ben Carson as a perfectly capable choice to lead a cabinet agency the retired physician knows literally nothing about.

For Trump, personal loyalty to him is vastly more important than basic competence. Carson supported Trump’s campaign, was willing to serve as a surrogate in the months leading up to the election, didn’t try to overshadow the candidate or take too much of the spotlight, and ultimately, nothing else matters.

In the president-elect’s mind, Carson’s behavior deserves a reward, and if that means handing control of a cabinet agency to a man who has no idea what to do with that bureaucracy, so be it. Expertise is only important to eggheads and people who didn’t vote for him anyway.

Of course, Trump administration’s won’t be effective with a group of people who have no idea what they’re doing, but since Trump doesn’t take governing seriously, and he’s leading a post-policy party, this doesn’t seem to factor much into his thinking.