“’What do you think about Dr. Ben Carson as the GOP candidate for president in 2016?” Republican friends frequently ask me, to which my response is:
“Did he win World War II?”
In 1952, General Dwight David Eisenhower became the last president of the United States to be elected without first holding a lower elective office.
Carson’s path from a very tough childhood to the head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University is certainly impressive. (In a political field where many Ph.D’s insist on being called “doctor” and few office holders wow you with their intelligence, Carson stands out by being, literally, a brain surgeon.) But the journey from the doctor’s office to Oval Office is highly unlikely.
That has not stopped Carson from surging in the popular imagination. He is a “rising conservative star,” according to a recent Washington Post report detailing how “Carson is forming a political action committee, a move that pushes him closer to running for president in 2016.”
The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee raised $3.3 million in just the second quarter of 2014. Carson’s group of loyalists actually outraised the behemoth super-PAC known as Ready for Hillary, which brought in $2.5 million – Hillary’s own record-breaking sum for one quarter.
Ready for Hillary, since its formation in January 2013, had raised a total of $8.25 million as of June 30. Compare that to Draft Carson, a group hatched in August 2013 that has hauled in a whopping $7.2 million.
Momentum for Draft Carson continues to grow, and more cash is flowing as the retired doctor extends his media presence beyond Fox News, where he has been a frequent on-air contributor since October 2013.
But Carson’s political ascension could actually be interpreted as bad news for the crowded bench of GOP 2016 prospects, signaling a severely fractured presidential field in which none of the current “in the news” candidates are catching fire, breaking free, and galvanizing Republican primary voters.
Here are the latest Real Clear Politics (RCP) averages from which you can try to answer these questions and draw your own conclusions.
In the battle for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination there are four names that score in the double digits with voters but are clumped very closely together.
Rand Paul barely leads the pack at 11.3%, followed by Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, who are tied at 11%, and Jeb Bush at 10%.
Carson, even with his “rising star” status and impressive fundraising, is not yet listed on the RCP polls.
One could argue that having four “leaders,” topping the heap of seven familiar names who are still stuck in single digits, is the very definition of a fractured party.
Unfortunately, fracturing translates into a long, bitter primary battle which, as we saw in 2012, weakened the over-all Republican presidential brand when the winner, Mitt Romney, finally headed into the general election in May.
Speaking of 2012, nothing illustrates 2016 GOP weakness more than the ever-growing chatter about recycling Mitt Romney and encouraging him to make his third presidential run.
The good news, widely reported from a recent poll conducted for CNN had Romney defeating President Obama by a popular vote margin of 53% to 44% if the 2012 presidential election was held today. (The actual 2012 election results were 51.1% for Obama and 47.2% for Romney.)
The bad news is that Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2016, and this same CNN poll showed likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton defeating Romney by a margin of 55% to 42%. The GOP should not be going backward to find its future 2016 candidate.
How will the fractured GOP find its next standard-bearer without ripping itself apart in the process? Every Republican I speak with is extremely concerned that the party is again heading toward another brutal primary bloodbath in 2016, yielding disastrous results.
Perhaps the answer is someone like Carson, a well-respected and fresh face who comes to the party from far outside the political arena.
“The prospective 2016 presidential field looks like it will more open than any contest in memory,” Mark McKinnon, who served as the media strategist for President George W. Bush, told me. “The absence of a clear front runner makes it possible for anyone to be ‘in play’ — even Ben Carson.”
If Carson continues his current surge, widening his national media profile while his draft committee or official PAC rakes in millions, should that negate my concerns raised by the General Eisenhower?
And a more intriguing political question:
In our modern age, is traditional elected-office experience really necessary to perform the job of president if one is a highly successful professional in a respected field?
I do not pretend to know the answer, but I do know that all Americans are craving a strong, decisive leader in 2016. If Dr. Ben Carson is that person, let him lead the way.
Cross-posted at National Review Online