For much of the summer, the political world has watched the race for the Republican presidential nomination with one candidate in the foreground. When will the Donald Trump bubble burst? Will it ever? Is there a point at which Trump's lack of presidential qualifications will catch up with him?
Those questions have value, but note they can be applied just as easily to the guy right behind Trump in the polls.
Ben Carson, the retired physician who's also never served a day in public office, has quietly built up a remarkable level of GOP support, despite the fact that he often seems to have no idea what he's talking about.
Last night, for example, Carson argued that progressive taxation is itself evidence of "socialism." From the transcript:
"It's all about America. You know, the people who say the guy who paid a billion dollars because he had 10, he has still got $9 billion left, that's not fair, we need to take more of his money. That's called socialism. That doesn't work so well."
It fell to Donald Trump, of all people, to explain, “We’ve had a graduated tax system for many years, so it’s not a socialistic thing."
This came before Carson's bizarre and arguably dangerous rhetoric about vaccinations -- an area he should understand better given his medical background.
Towards the end of the event, the Republican doctor added, "[W]hen someone comes along and says, 'Free college, free phones, free this and that, and the other,' they say, 'Wow, that's nice,' having no idea that they're destabilizing our position."
Oh, good. The three-hour debate nearly wrapped up without an "Obamaphone" reference.
I'll concede that it's sometimes difficult to watch events like these through the eyes of a far-right voter. Carson's performance in the first debate was practically sleep-inducing, but in the weeks that followed, his support soared. Maybe some Republicans like exceedingly mellow candidates; maybe debate performances don't have much of an effect on GOP voters' preferences.
But watching Carson last night, it's very difficult to imagine anyone coming away from the event thinking, "That man is clearly ready to be president of the United States."