If polls may be believed, Ben Carson, M.D. shares the support of nearly half of registered Republicans with Donald Trump. Rightbloggers love the guy, and Carson seems to have moved right into their sweet spot — which, if history is any guide, means he’s nearly finished.
For perspective, let’s hop in the wayback machine to 2011, to the start of silly season for Republicans, when another black conservative with no electoral experience jumped into the race and ran the table awhile.
In May of that year, as we recorded in this column, Mike Huckabee — currently still slugging away as the Candidate of the Rapture — ducked out of the GOP Presidential race. That created an opening for Herman Cain, a former regional Federal Reserve chief and pizza chain operator. Cain was a belligerent clown, snarling that he couldn’t be bothered to learn about foreign countries, and touting (but not comprehensibly explaining) a “999” regressive tax plan. This excited conservatives, as did the fact that Cain was black, making liberals the Real Racists™ and therefore allegedly frightened of Cain because he would steal the black and the liberal white black-lover vote. (“I daresay that a black man, courageously standing publicly for American free enterprise and individual meritocracy, is even scarier to the left than a rising Mama Grizzly,” said Pajamas Media, e.g.)
When another GOP fave, Mitch Daniels, bailed from the race, Cain’s stock rose among the brethren. “Of all the announced and potential Republican candidates Gallup tracks that have name recognition below 50%, only Cain creates strong enthusiasm among those who recognize him,” said RedState. Fans began calling him “The Herminator.”
This enthusiasm persisted into the fall, despite Cain’s weak performance in debates and anywhere else he had to explain why he should be president. “OK, so [Cain’s] not an expert at foreign policy and prefers catchy slogans to wonkish details,” said veteran rightblogger Robert Stacy McCain. “…despite all his flaws and failures he is, after all, winning. As I said the other day, victory tends to become its own argument.”
Eventually, for Cain, victory was no longer its own argument because, well, he stopped winning. As a real election drew closer, the brethren got cold feet and clamored instead for candidates who were less entertainingly clownish but had real political experience — Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and even Rick Perry — before giving up and going with upright Mitt Romney. When Romney lost to Obama, conservatives seethed and dreamed of new ultraconservatives they could nominate, or at least have a little pre-nomination fun with, in 2016.
The following year Ben Carson, heretofore best known as a neurosurgeon, became a rightblogger flavor-of-the-moment by insulting President Obama at a prayer breakfast (“FLASHBACK: Ben Carson Criticized Obama TO HIS FACE” — Media Research Center). In that speech, Carson suggested America get rid of progressive taxation and just have “a tithe,” and that we also get rid of Obamacare and just have health savings accounts, which would be passed down through hereditary succession “so that when you’re 85 years old and you got six diseases, you’re not trying to spend up everything.”
It was pretty clear even then that Carson was several shingles short of a sound roof. But his status as an accomplished African-American who hated Obama as much as any other wingnut got him promoted through the system, and he appeared at conventions and on Fox News shows, where he said embarrassing things — or things that would embarrass normal people — comparing Obamacare to slavery, gay marriage to bestiality, America under Obama to Nazi Germany, etc. This won him a featured speaker slot at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). In that address Carson mostly complained that media outlets had misquoted him — that is, quoted him accurately enough to make him look bad. If there’s anything rightbloggers hate more than Obama, it’s the media, so this went over big, and Carson, who had not announced for any office, came in third in the CPAC Presidential straw poll behind Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
In this summer’s GOP debates, Carson’s somnambulant performances made even some rightbloggers nervous. Paul Mirengoff of Power Line, for example, called his second debate “SHOCKINGLY WEAK,” mainly because he took some positions that Republican insiders like Mirengoff can’t abide (“Carson opposed going to war in Afghanistan after 9/11… Carson has also been squishy on the subject of amnesty”).
But Mirengoff apparently missed the message of the Trump boom — namely, that your positions don’t matter so long as you stoke the resentments of the base. How else to explain an MD like Carson pandering to the anti-vaccine crowd, except as a way of showing that he wasn’t buying the liberal establishment’s shibboleths about science or anything else? Carson was even the first debater this year to invoke, as Newt Gingrich had done in 2012, the name of Saul Alinsky, which is a sort of a secret handshake among the doctrinaire (“The award so far in this Republican debate for dog-whistle rhetoric goes to Ben Carson,” gushed John Fund at National Review). And though he may not support the wars Paul Mirengoff likes, Carson thinks that when we capture enemy soldiers, or even just guys off the street, we should be able to torture them without people getting all “politically correct” about it — and isn’t that the important thing?
Now we have Carson running neck in neck with Donald Trump. The surge seems to have gone to Carson’s head, because last week he said a bunch of odd things.
For one, Carson went on the Marketplace radio show and basically acted as if he’d never heard of the U.S. debt ceiling (Host: “I’m really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you’re not going to raise the debt limit and you’re not going to give specifics on what you’re gonna cut…”). Some of the brethren suggested that Carson perhaps lacked a certain attentiveness to reality or, in the measured words of Leon H. Wolff of RedState, “personal diligence.” While “Ben Carson is clearly smart enough to understand the distinction between the budget and the debt limit,” said Wolff, he “hasn’t seen fit to do even this minimal amount of research.” Wolff then broke his uncomfortably long streak of common sense by praising Carly Fiorina.
At PJ Media, J. Christian Adams complained “no constitutional conservative should support him for president” because of another Carson position: the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. “To recap, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 forced 16 states to obtain federal approval for every election law change no matter how big or how small,” fumed Adams — and all because of some “segregation” thing. To make sure readers got the point, Adams included a photo of Carson shaking hands with Al Sharpton.
The brethren came together for Carson, though, on guns.
Carson was especially weird on the subject of the recent Umpqua massacre. He suggested that if he’d been at the shooting, he’d have rushed the gunman, unlike those pussies who got shot. He later said that someone pulled a gun on him at Popeye’s once and he obligingly directed the gunman to the guy behind the counter, which seemed strange coming from someone who was just telling the world he would have rushed the gunman at a massacre.
But Carson could have said anything, including “cabbages knickers it’s not got a beak,” and so long as it involved unlimited gun suffrage the brethren would support him. The gun is for them a sacred object, like a totem pole, a ceremonial sword, or a train going into a tunnel. So they attacked the people who dared to suggest Carson was nuts.
“It’s pretty revealing – not only do these sanctimonious … things not want their countrymen to have the capability of armed defense, they ridicule the concept and the faith of anyone who would presume simply to fight back with whatever means are at hand,” frothed Ammoland. Reason’s Jacob Sullum slammed the New York Times for suggesting, in their criticism of Carson, “that people who defend the Second Amendment have an irrational, quasi-mystical faith in it that blinds them to the real-world consequences of allowing widespread gun ownership.” Where would they get an idea like that?
When Carson kicked it up a notch, telling Wolf Blitzer that if the Jews in Germany were packing heat they’d have had a great shot at beating Hitler and his army, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke said the candidate was “half-right,” but didn’t say which half: After a full paragraph of wondering aloud “why the mere mention of this [Nazi] era offends people as keenly as it does,” Cooke appeared to admit that Carson was not-even-half-right (“it seems unlikely to me that any organized resistance could have prevailed”), then switched gears, saying the issue was “entirely irrelevant to the more important question here, which is not ‘can armed people always overthrow a tyrannical government’ but ‘does the government get to deny them the chance to try?’” Cooke then worked himself into a fine lather about his own right to bear arms, ending with “I will assert my unalienable right to try against any man at any time in any place, and those who hope to strip me of that chance can man up, head to my front door, and come and damn well take it” before leading the rest of Delta House out of the student court hearing, humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
It quickly became time to haul out the big guns. When a writer at GQ magazine said “Fuck you, Ben Carson,” Weasel Zippers snarled, “Racist GQ Writes Piece, ‘F**ck Ben Carson.'”. If you’re wondering what’s racist about “Fuck you,” you’re missing the point — rightbloggers believe that liberals are always calling them racist for no reason, so now that they’ve got a black guy they can do the same thing.
When a black professor called Carson a “coon” on Twitter — or just suggested NASCAR would bestow such a title on him, depending on how you interpret her tweet — it triggered a new round of how come they can say [racial slur] and we can’t. (“Most media is ignoring the racist taunt” — Legal Insurrection; “Ivy League Prof Calls Ben Carson A ‘Coon’” — Daily Caller, etc.)
At Breitbart.com, Jerome Hudson threw a full-body fit called “THE LIBERAL MEDIA LYNCHING OF DR. BEN CARSON,” in the course of which he portrayed Carson as “just the latest ‘uppity negro’ (Justice Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain) to defy the expectations of his white liberal mainstream media masters,” and cried, “[Carson] has chosen not to be a mindless minstrel puppet, tap dancing, performing, like a good boy, for his white liberal media gatekeepers,” etc. (Enraged as he was, he managed to work in the traditional rightblogger thing about a “plantation” where liberals allegedly keep black people.)
Carson got in on this, telling a radio audience that racism was “mostly with the progressive movement,” whom he claimed considered him “an Uncle Tom” for his beliefs. Finally Carson employed, as he had back when he was the belle of CPAC, that rightblogger equivalent of running out of bullets and throwing the gun, blaming the media. “I will continue to expose them every time they do something,” he vowed at a press conference, and creepily demanded reporters undergo a “transformation” to become “allies of the people.”
This may be good for a boost among the base in coming weeks, but it’s hard to imagine what Carson can do for an encore, besides admit he has a problem, seek help, do a quick rehab, and reenter the race reading non-crazy comments off index cards. But there’s not enough time for that so, with many months of pre-election fun to go, it may be time to focus on some other lunatic who has no business running for president. Say, what’s Jim Webb up to these days?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2015