His name is Ben Carson. He is a graduate of Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School. He is the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 for his contributions to medicine and his work in education. He is articulate. He is attractive. He is likeable. He is conservative. "He loves Jesus," according to one Republican senator. He is black. Oh, and Cuba Gooding Jr. once played him in a movie.
Given his background, it's hardly surprising that conservatives would want Dr. Carson to enter the political fray on their side. But when conservatives got their first glimpse of the world-famous doctor speaking in a quasi-political forum, the Fox News crowd reacted with the sort of giddiness that one might expect to see out of a 14-year-old girl who had just met Justin Bieber.
Carson's debut came during last month's National Prayer Breakfast. With President Obama sitting just feet away, Carson politely, calmly, and eloquently highlighted some of ObamaCare's most obvious flaws, and proposed some simple, common-sense solutions. For conservatives, it was love at first sight. Video of the event immediately went viral and conservative commentators took to whatever bullhorn they could find to sing Carson's praises. Rush Limbaugh proclaimed that Dr. Carson "probably (has) everybody in the Democrat party scared to death." The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal took Carson-mania a step further, running a glowing review of the speech under the headline "Ben Carson for President."
Chatter about Carson's political career only intensified earlier this month, when he followed up his Prayer Breakfast triumph with a speech at CPAC in which he left open the possibility of a presidential run. Many conservatives appear to be very fond of this possibility.
But it would be a terrible mistake if Carson ran for president. If he really wants to be a player, the perfect opportunity has opened up for him in his home state of Michigan. Sen. Carl Levin (D) has announced that he will be retiring at the end of his current term, and if Carson were to win that seat, he would emerge as one of the most prominent and intelligent faces of the GOP. He would also gain valuable campaign and political experience that may enable him to make a run at the White House (for real) in 2020 or 2024. (Alternately, if Carson simply wants to become super famous and make a ton of money as an analyst on Fox News, then by all means, run for president. But the country needs smart leaders a hell of a lot more than it needs another talking head.)
That conservatives are taking a Carson candidacy seriously speaks to a much broader problem in the GOP. Obama's political success has lead many conservatives to mistakenly believe that the GOP's failures are principally personality-driven. They are not. Obama is a very talented politician, but the fact that the Democrats are in charge of the White House has a lot less to do with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or any other character than it does with the conservative movement's inability to connect with voters, which was recently laid bare by a much-publicized "autopsy" report. If Hillary Clinton had been the nominee, she would have won in 2008 and in 2012. Mitt Romney was awkward and boring, but the conservative brand and, to some degree, conservative ideas were the major reason Romney did not knock off Obama.
Rather than wondering whether Marco, Jeb, Rand, Bobby, Chris, or Ben Carson can retake the White House on the strength of charisma alone, we would do well to focus all of our energy on applying conservative values to modern problems. That way, if the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan does not show up before 2016, we still might have a shot at winning the election, because we will be armed with ideas and solutions to tackle the great problems of the day.
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