Ben Carson Needs to Get Over Himself

He can blame his staff, but his campaign’s problems have always run much deeper.

Ben Carson
Ben Carson is somehow under this illusion that he is supposed to be president. Above, the former neurosurgeon prepares for a television interview on Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ben Carson appears to suffer from the belief that he is supposed to be the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

It’s a strange hang-up for a political novice who, until recently, spent his career as a doctor. An excellent doctor, but a doctor. If a renowned doctor wanted to serve as president, sure, there’s a way. First that doctor would run for a House or Senate seat, or maybe the governor’s office. After attaining political experience and fluency in the issues, that doctor could more realistically consider a bid for the highest office in the country. For a doctor to jump straight from the operating room to the part where you run for president of the United States and expect to win, though, is a tall order, and presumes arrogance on the part of the doctor in question.

Carson’s candidacy has been a standard bubble campaign in the tradition of, well, most campaigns that weren’t Mitt Romney’s in the 2012 Republican primary cycle. He was a fresh new face who railed against “political correctness,” appealed to evangelicals, and offered an early respite from the dreaded “career politicians.” He briefly rose to the top of national and Iowa polls, and then people started asking questions about his background and things such as “public policy.” It became clear that he was utterly unfamiliar with “public policy,” and his support fell off a cliff and transferred, in large part, to Sen. Ted Cruz and to Donald Trump. Oh well. It’s one of those things that happens; not everyone gets to be president.

But because Carson is under this illusion that he is supposed to be president—that there’s nothing bold or quixotic whatsoever about his attempt to leap overnight from “esteemed Baltimore surgeon” to POTUS—his collapse has given way to some unbecoming kvetching. He believes that his collapse has much to do with his staff. It’s unclear that his staff, however, has much control over him, since he’s recently taken up the habit of whining pitifully and at length to any reporter who’ll listen.

On Wednesday, Ben Carson told the Associated Press that “personnel changes” were imminent—watering the tree of liberty with the blood of campaign managers and deputy communications strategists, and so forth. Who’s going? Senior staff? “Everything. Everything is on the table,” he said. “Every single thing is on the table. I’m looking carefully.” Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennett had no idea, at the time, that Carson was saying this to the Associated Press. Later in the day, presumably after some sort of staff confab, Carson issued a statement saying that his senior staff “remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan.”

Carson gave a separate interview the same day to the Washington Post. Again, he mentioned that he would shake up his staff, the same vow he made to the AP that he would disregard later in the day. But there’s plenty of meat in the Post’s full Q&A. Carson discussed the stylistic adjustments that his staff was urging him to make and with which he was uncomfortable. “They want me to be more bombastic, they want you to attack other people,” he said. “They want me to act more like a politician.” They want him to redefine himself as a brawler, or at least something above his prevailing demeanor, which is that of a narcoleptic. When asked whether he’s “capable” of such a personality shift, Carson responded, “Sure, I could do it, but that’s just not who I am. Why would I try to get elected based on who I’m not? I wouldn’t be happy and the people wouldn’t be happy.” By his Sunday appearance on Face the Nation, Carson had been partially swayed. “We have kind of taken a nonchalant attitude [toward attacks],” Carson said. “That’s the wrong thing to do, so you will see much more aggressiveness in that region.” His initial instinct, that trying to become a candidate that he’s not wouldn’t work, was more apt.

The best indication of how delusional Carson has become is when, in the Post interview, he documents all of the honorary degrees and awards he’s earned for his career as a medical doctor to prove that he’s not a weak, passive person who’s ill-equipped to combat the challenges of foreign policy. Demeanor may have something to do with it. But it may also just be that he is, in terms of experience and demonstrated knowledge, visibly ill-equipped to combat the challenges of foreign policy. And so he is losing. Yes, Trump is also obviously unknowledgeable about foreign policy. This hasn’t hurt him because nothing hurts him among roughly one-third of the Republican Party, who have no time for anyone else.

And so we get these interviews where Carson complains about the “brutal” vetting process he’s undergone. For all we can tell, questions that the press has raised about Carson’s background that came across as nitpicky only helped him among conservatives. Stories in which he demonstrably lied about lucrative sources of income did not. I would judge it a wash on the whole and chalk up Carson’s decline more to voters gradually realizing that Carson shouldn’t be president due to his lack of presidential qualities.

But Carson will never accept that. It is all a plot, coordinated by evil forces, to deny him the promotion from surgeon to president that’s so vital for America’s future, as well as his ego. It really is some ego, too! From the Post interview:

Post: In terms of the campaign, it looks like you’re producing some spots upstairs. Any ads about Trump, Cruz, or Rubio? How are you going to contrast in the next month?

Carson: I’m actually depending on the wisdom of the people. It was Thomas Jefferson who said we would get to this point, and he said before we completely lost it and went over the cliff, the people would realize what is going on and they’d wake up and stop being manipulated. They’d think for themselves. I’m hoping that that’s going to happen.

Alas, if trends continue, the American people are set to disappoint Jefferson in this Republican presidential primary. As well as Ben Carson. OK, mostly just Ben Carson.