The Rise and Fall of Ben Carson

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson excited many members of the party’s base when he announced his run for president. Many envisioned Carson as a voice for the Republican Party within the African American demographic, an area Democrats have historically held strong control over. Carson emerged as a contender early, solidifying a 2nd place average in the polls shortly after the first debate between the candidates within the party. Carson’s popularity grew as GOP voters began to show strong favorability to non-political, or “outsider”, candidates, a group Carson fit in with his career as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Carson, with his articulate and quiet political style, was viewed as a less flagrant and more policy oriented alternative to the aggressive front-runner Donald Trump.

The beginning of November revealed a surge in support for Carson. The retired neurosurgeon overtook Trump in the national primary poll along with in the key states of Iowa and South Carolina, where some of the earliest primaries take place. He crept up on Trump in the important state of New Hampshire and his favorability ratings rose to the highest among the Republican competition. Fast forward to now, however, and Carson’s support has severely diminished. An NBC News poll catalogued a 10 point fall from the beginning of November until now. A new Fox News poll displays an even more drastic fall with Carson dropping to 9% in New Hampshire, tying him with Jeb Bush for fourth place. This same poll puts him only four points in front of Constitutionalist Ted Cruz nationally. Carson has lost a quarter of his support among white evangelicals, a group who makes up 60% of the Republican primary’s electorate, and lost half of his support among self-identified “very conservative” Republicans. This loss of ground has provided room for Cruz, who is very popular among very conservative Christians, to grow into. Carson’s rapid deterioration of support cannot be attributed to a single statement or event as most declines are, but rather to a series of small direct and indirect challenges to Carson’s campaign.

Early November saw a flurry of attacks on Carson from the media challenging his life story. Media outlets first challenged his claim that he received a full scholarship to West Point but chose to attend Yale instead. This attack was based upon the fact that West Point has no record of Carson applying or gaining admission to the school, which offers no scholarships as all tuition is free. Further objections to Carson’s life story were connected to his supposedly violent past. Carson claimed he had tried to hit his mother over the head with a hammer during an argument about clothing. Another story of Carson’s is that he attempted to stab his friend, but the blade broke on his belt buckle, saving his life. Carson has stated that he recited the Book of Proverbs after this incident and never had an issue with his temper since. CNN interviewed nine childhood friends of Carson and found none recalled this temper of Carson’s and expressed surprise towards his claims that these events occurred. While Carson stands by his statements, much of the public has come to their own conclusion, that he is lying. This can be seen in Carson’s significant slip in trustworthiness ratings in the polls, an attribute valued by Republicans after Hillary Clinton’s email scandal.

A significant, indirect blow to the Carson campaign came in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. The threat of a similar attack on the United States has caused many candidates to speak out on the topic and lay out aggressive  for the elimination of ISIL.  A large portion of the American public is looking for such a plan as they feel threatened and want their next leader to be capable of preventing an attack. Carson, soft spoken and quiet in demeanor, is now overshadowed by bolder candidates. Much of the Republican base seems to prefer a stronger and more assertive leader rather than an inexperienced and quiet one.
The sharp downturn of the Carson campaign has left many questions surrounding the candidate. Many are questioning his trustworthiness and his ability to persevere through media attacks. Others wonder if his temperament is suitable for today’s political world and if his lack of experience politically allows him to be qualified as President. Ben Carson has much to answer if he is to fulfill the vision so many conservatives had for him when he entered the race.

(Copyright 2015 Samuel Hamway) (Photo from Washington Post)