Someday there will be an awesome supercut of interviewers trying to act like Ben Carson doesn't scare the hell out of them.
— Bob Schooley (@Rschooley) October 26, 2015
Back in May, when Dr. Carson announced he was joining the GOP clown parade, I thought he stood the risk of damaging a long, worthwhile career in neurosurgery with a sideline in personal inspiration for an under-thought attempt to… sell more books, or improve his name recognition, or work through the grief of his beloved mother’s declining health. So I figured he’d be mostly ignored, maybe thumped around by some of the more aggressive GOPer candidates as a practice dummy, and eventually disappear into the triva-game mists with Lincoln Chafee and Larry Lessig.
Your regular reminder that the entire Ben Carson phenomenon is bizarre and strange. https://t.co/I3AW7zLrBP
— Jamelle Booo-eeee! (@jbouie) October 23, 2015
… According to the latest poll from Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Register, Carson is ahead of the pack with 28 percent of the vote. But more interesting are the facts behind his rise. Iowans aren’t just charmed by his demeanor, his experience, and his inexperience as a politician and policymaker—although that’s definitely true—they also support his most controversial, and entirely ludicrous, ideas…
… The vast majority of Iowa Republicans are still undecided. As the caucus comes closer, their preference might change. And other candidates, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, are also popular with GOP voters in the state. What it does mean, if anything, is that Carson speaks the language of Iowa Republicans. They like his rhetoric, whether it’s absurd, ignorant, or genuinely offensive…
What I didn’t appreciate was the Chauncey Gardiner effect — the degree to which a soft-spoken, well-intentioned innocent from within a sealed bubble could become a figurehead for some of the worst and most dangerous impulses in modern American politics. Dr. Carson is a devout Seventh Day Adventist, and a gifted surgeon, and his particular gifts and circumstances have apparently protected him from exposure to any information that might conflict with a trophy cupboard of 1950s moral axioms and 1980s neoconservative financial theories.
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) October 24, 2015
As the NYTimes perceives it, “Calm Manner Has Ben Carson Rising in Polls“:
… “That smile and his soft voice makes people very comforted,” said Miriam Greenfield, a farmer in Jewell, Iowa.
In an election season that has confounded party leaders and experts, the rise of Mr. Carson is another unexpected twist. His supporters cite Mr. Carson’s character, not his positions, as the main reason they back him. And they say his low-key approach is precisely what would tame Washington’s bitter partisanship, rather than Mr. Trump’s swagger.
“He is kind when he speaks, and he doesn’t have an agenda to set himself up as wonderful,” said Donna Christiansen, a retiree in Ames.
What is more, Mr. Carson’s provocative comments on topics like Nazism and slavery, which pundits and commentators regularly denounce, seem only to deepen the enthusiasm his evangelical base feels for him. He has connected with Republican women here, who prefer him to Mr. Trump. And he has built momentum far from the political establishment, which was unimpressed with his debate performances and his lack of governing experience. He conducts chats on Facebook and visits medical clinics and churches rather than the usual political stops…
And unlike some other candidates popular with the party’s grass roots, Mr. Carson has built a muscular financial base. His $20.8 million raised over the summer, most in small donations, was more than the total of any other Republican candidate. On Friday, he released his first television ad in the four early nominating states.
On Facebook, Mr. Carson answers nightly questions from his 4.3 million “friends,” covering personal topics (his ailing mother is “much better”), policies like a recent suggestion that he would end Medicare (he denied it) and the campaign (the debates are “just a boxing match”)…
On Sunday, Mr. Carson gave critics more fuel by opposing abortion in cases of rape or incest, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way.”
Mr. Carson’s rise in Iowa is driven by his consolidation of evangelical voters, who constitute close to 60 percent of Republican caucusgoers, a trend that could carry him strongly into later voting states in the South with similar demographics.
“People are very attracted to Ben Carson’s bedside demeanor,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a leader of the Christian right in Iowa…
Well, I was right about that factor — after the first debate, when some commentors here were suspicious about GOP focus groups’ curious enthusiasm for that nice Dr. Carson, I said part of it would prove to be that older Midwesterners, especially the female ones, just don’t like people who yell all the time.
Ben Carson on MTP answers the Roe v Wade question he wouldn't in my interview. pic.twitter.com/ikNQdFVRJM
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) October 25, 2015
But if you think his forced-birth “medical” opinions are anti-science and frankly terrifying, just wait till you watch Carson defend his proposals to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and all those other undifferentiated “wasteful government attempts to get between the American people and their health care providers”…
Specifics on that start at the 4:20 minute mark. Health savings accounts would “largely eliminate the need for people to rely on goverment programs” — even Chris Wallace, of Fox News, sounds somewhat dubious. But, Dr. Carson assures him, “I do not believe in imposing things upon people. I believe in presenting things that are so attractive, that people will very quickly migrate to them…”
It’s clear Carson has only the vaguest grasp on the mechanics of his plan (the new plan, which is not, he says, the same as the old plan posted on his website) but he has a serene and unshakeable faith in that plan. He can’t explain it, but we can be sure that it will be a fine plan, more desirable than all the weak secular alternatives. We can trust him! He knows stuff!
Last politician I can remember exuding this kind of blissful confidence in buzzwords and blind optimism was Ronald Reagan. And for those of us who lived through Reagan years, that’s pretty damned scary.