Ben Carson’s Sham Campaign Has Him Tied With Hillary Clinton

The juxtaposition of two headlines at memeorandum is amusing.

clinton-carson-tied

The juxtaposition of two headlines at memeorandum is amusing:  ”Is Ben Carson Running for President?”  and “Poll: Clinton Ties Carson in ’16 Matchup, but Tops Other GOP Candidates.”

The first, by Jonathan Chait, is one to which I’m sympathetic:

On February 7, 2013, Ben Carson appeared at a National Prayer Breakfast, where he visibly annoyed President Obama by delivering a right-wing speech denouncing Obamacare and cultural liberalism, and calling for a flat tax based on the biblical tithe. Conservatives, still devastated by Obama’s reelection, took delight in the appearance on the scene of a surprising new presidential antagonist, who until that point had no political profile. “Finally, a self-reliant conservative decided to make this every bit as political as Obama does,” tweeted conservative pundit David Limbaugh. The Wall Street Journal celebrated Carson’s remarks in a short editorial, headlined “Ben Carson for President.” The headline was obviously hyperbolic; nothing in the text that followed proposed that Carson run for public office.

But now Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars’ worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency.

And the notion that Carson could be president is preposterous. The problem is not only that he has never run for elected office. He has never managed a large organization; he has not worked in and around public policy, and he lacks a competent grasp of issues. His stance on health care, the closest thing to an issue with which his professional experience has brought him into contact, is gibberish. He mostly thrills audiences by scoffing at evolution and insisting Muslims be barred from the presidency, stances he cannot even defend coherently.

It is possible that Carson has come to genuinely believe that he is qualified to serve as president. (As a follower of the conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen, Carson seems to subscribe in earnest to a series of completely fantastical beliefs.) It is also possible that Carson is being manipulated by staffers who stand to profit off their association with him. But the most likely explanation for his behavior is that Carson himself is in this thing to make a lot of money.

Chait goes on to make a compelling argument that Carson is doing all sorts of things that make no sense if one is trying to get elected president but are shrewd as hell if one if just raising one’s brand awareness as a right-wing shill.

But, of course, Carson is not only soaring in the polls but actually leading some of them. Moreover, inexplicable as it may be to Chait or Joyner, the NBC/WSJ poll has Carson not only leading the Republican field but tied with the Democratic frontrunner:

Clinton is ahead of Republican Donald Trump by eight points among registered voters, 50 percent to 42 percent.

She leads former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by four points, 47 percent to 43 percent.

And Clinton holds a three-point advantage over Sen. Marco Rubio, 47 percent to 44 percent, though that’s well within the poll’s margin of error of plus-minus 3.4 percentage points.

But against Ben Carson, who is now leading the GOP horserace in the NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton finds herself in a tied contest, 47 percent to 47 percent.

It’s just one poll, albeit a reputable one, and one conducted a year out from the actual election. But Carson is clearly tapping into something real and widespread.

I’ve been quite interested in politics and international affairs going back to the Iran hostage crisis and the 1980 election. I’ve voted Republican for president in every election since I’ve been eligible, going back to 1984. And yet I’d happily vote for Martin O’Malley over Carson, Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz. Hell, I’d vote for Bernie Sanders over any of them.

Clinton being the almost-inevitable Democratic nominee makes it more challenging, given my strong distaste for her going back to her emergence on the national stage 25 years ago. She’s obviously much more qualified by experience for the job than Carson or Trump. And Carson is sufficiently extreme on the issues that I’m likely closer to Clinton. But she also has many of the negative character traits that repel me from Trump and Cruz.

The belief that the rigorous and prolonged nomination fight will burst the Trump and Carson bubbles continues to sustain my hopes that I won’t be left with Clinton as the least awful outcome.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I tend to take head-to-head polls this far before a General Election with a grain of salt, but taken together with yesterday’s news that Carson and Trump are the candidates Republicans say they trust most to deal with the economy and have authority over nuclear weapons, it certainly is a puzzle.

    Also, the fact that Carson seems to be doing so well outside of just GOP horse race polls seems to show that, at least for now, he’s captured the attention of more than just the hard right of the GOP.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Agree all around. While it’s more pronounced on the right, there’s a general frustration with career politicians and with “the system” as a whole that goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Carson is highly accomplished and comes across as pleasant, unless you’re really listening to what he’s saying. But, goodness, he’s not qualified for the presidency.

  3. Todd says:

    yet I’d happily vote for Martin O’Malley over Carson, Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz. Hell, I’d vote for Bernie Sanders over any of them.

    Clinton being the almost-inevitable Democratic nominee makes it more challenging, given my strong distaste for her

    This is what I’ve been saying over and over again about Hillary Clinton. The way a lot of people feel about her somewhat negates the “Republican candidates are horrible” argument for why “any” Democrat is likely to win. But I keep getting down voted (as I’m sure this comment will too) by the partisans in the commentariat here.

    I still can’t even comprehend the possibility of Ben Carson as the Republican nominee. But I do know that some of my conservative friends would love it if he is … if for no other reason than they will relish calling me (and other non-conservatives) “racists” for not supporting him. 🙂

  4. Sandy Greave says:

    And why is it preposterous to think Ben could not be a great president in the Ronald Reagan line? Is it because you are from Alabama? Were I to list them, by the way, my bona fides match up quite favorably to those in your byline. Is not the country sick? Do we not need the world to respect and to fear us again? Ben is a “big picture” man. Maybe that’s why you don’t “get it.”

  5. John McGloin says:

    You don’t mention that Bernie Sanders performed better against Trump and Rubio than Clinton (they didn’t put him against Carson). Corporate media is doing their best to bury the only candidate that would stand against the global corporate revolution.

  6. ernieyeball says:

    @Sandy Greave:..Is not the country sick?

    Yes. The ailment is a penchant to support mindless buffoons like Trump, Carson, Huckleberry, Cruze et.al.
    There is a virulent strain of ignorance and stupidity going around.

  7. Jen says:

    @Sandy Greave: Ronald Reagan was a two-term governor of California, and a gifted speaker. Agree with him or not, he had the managerial experience to be president.

    Carson has NONE.

    The U.S. Presidency is not an entry-level political position.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    And why is it preposterous to think Ben could not be a great president in the Ronald Reagan line? Is it because you are from Alabama? Were I to list them, by the way, my bona fides match up quite favorably to those in your byline. Is not the country sick? Do we not need the world to respect and to fear us again? Ben is a “big picture” man. Maybe that’s why you don’t “get it.”

    When Dr. Carson says singularly stupid things like: Obamacare is the worst thing in this country since slavery, or he equates American liberal voters with Nazi Germany, or that men go to prison straight and come out gay – well, I tend to think that that’s not the “big picture” man that I’m interested in.

    All of that said, I definitely think that America is sufficiently dumbed down that we could actually elect a guy like Carson.

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    And why is it preposterous to think Ben could not be a great president in the Ronald Reagan line?

    Well, Reagan governed the largest state in the nation for 8 year and was the head of an incredibly large union. Both are managerial positions that help you…manage. Carson was a neurosurgeon who (AFAIK) wasn’t in a managerial position. That’s OK–he was too busy being a brilliant doctor. But, unfortunately, it does make him a little underqualified to run one of the biggest governments in the world.

    Is it because you are from Alabama?

    Alabamians don’t like neurosurgeons? This is a new stereotype of which I was not familiar.

    Were I to list them, by the way, my bona fides match up quite favorably to those in your byline.

    Well, please, by all means list them. Although a very quick google search of your name, and you name plus “foreign policy,” “policy,” “military,” etc., showed nothing. It did come up with a tea partier from New York who is a postal worker…

    Is not the country sick?

    Depends on what you mean by sick. The economy is up, unemployment down, stock market up, soldiers deployed in combat zones down, the world’s respect and trust up, Al Qaeda leadership down, etc. I’m not listing these to be partisan. These are factual. How again is the country sick?

    Do we not need the world to respect and to fear us again?

    What’s with conservatives always conflating respect and fear? We have a military bigger than the next 10 combined, and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. That should be enough for the nation to fear us. If it’s not enough, and your answer is “so we need to elect a crazy man,” then no, we do not need more respect and fear.

    Ben is a “big picture” man. Maybe that’s why you don’t “get it.”

    By all means–and I mean this sincerely–please paint this big picture for us. I will say that I don’t “get” it. He’s made some mumblings about tithing, but has proposed little more. I truly am interested in what picture he is painting for you.

  10. Lit3Bolt says:

    If Carson or Trump win even one primary, expect the media (FOX included) to do an abrupt about-face and let the air out of those candidates as quickly as possible. If nothing else, the business class will not want the US to permanently damage relations with …hell, almost everyone at this point. Carson’s Nazi gobbledegook has already deeply offended Israel, Trump has incensed basically half of the Western Hemisphere, and I would hope that any sane US citizen would have nightmares of them sitting across a table with Putin, Jintao, or the Saudis.

    I would seriously consider renouncing my US citizenship and becoming an expatriate if either one of those clowns became President of the United States.

  11. cian says:

    The belief that the rigorous and prolonged nomination fight will burst the Trump and Carson bubbles continues to sustain my hopes that I won’t be left with Clinton as the least awful outcome.

    James, much as I admire you, I’ve got to call bullshit on this. A Trump, Carson or Cruz presidency would be a disaster for the country. Whatever your feelings about Clinton, you know full well she is a rational actor who understands how politics works in the real world, and as a rational person yourself, you would not hesitate to pull the lever in her favour.

    That said, you did vote for the worst president in America’s history, twice. So, there’s that.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    But Carson is clearly tapping into something real and widespread.

    Almost right. Carson is tapping into something bogus and widespread. It’s “real” in the sense that the mood exists, but it is not real in the sense that it has any basis in fact or truth.

    I think of it as being like witchcraft trials. Did the endless witch hunts of post-mediaeval Europe tap into something “real and widespread”? Yes — but not in any way that the participants would have recognized or understood, and not in any way that involved actual witches.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @cian:

    While I’m not certain of James’s age, I dont’ think he was alive to vote for Franklin Pierce.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    And why is it preposterous to think Ben could not be a great president in the Ronald Reagan line? Is it because you are from Alabama? Were I to list them, by the way, my bona fides match up quite favorably to those in your byline. Is not the country sick? Do we not need the world to respect and to fear us again? Ben is a “big picture” man. Maybe that’s why you don’t “get it.”

    Sandy has nicely provided an illustration for my point above. Gentle Ben is tapping into
    1) a perception that America is not only ‘sick’, but getting sicker
    2) a perception that the US military is now seen as ‘weak’
    3) a naive belief that foreign leaders respecting your manly resolve is both necessary and sufficient for effective foreign relations
    4) a contempt for politicians that is so profound that experience as a politician is seen as a disqualification for holding the most important political office in the land
    5) a long-running trend in Republican politics that values a certain (conservative Christian) moral worldview over knowledge, skills, experience, or even compassion. (That’s the “big picture” in question here.)

    All in all, it reflects a stunning failure of the American educational ‘system’ over the past few generations. (The scare quotes are there because America doesn’t have an educational system. It’s the one arena in which the small-government devolutionists have won nearly every battle.)

  15. DrDaveT says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    While I’m not certain of James’s age, I don’t think he was alive to vote for Franklin Pierce.

    You’d pick Pierce over James Buchanan?

    I think it’s too soon to evaluate the W presidency on a historical scale. It’s a gift that hasn’t stopped giving yet…

  16. stonetools says:

    Ever since the election of Saint Ronaldus, conservatives have increasingly been drawn to a fantasy world where tax cuts solve all economic problems, deficits don’t matter, government is the problem and should be eliminated -without any cutbacks in services, of course- and the US military can solve all foreign policy problems. The conservative media and conservative rhetoric create this fantasy world, and the right wing voters who consume this conservative media-which is the only media they trust-are now demanding a candidate who can now transform current reality into the conservative fantasy land they’ve been promised. Ben Carson and Donald Trump are promising they can deliver this conservative fantasy land pure and entire, without any concession to reality. Not surprisingly, the conservative base are eating this up, and they want their conservative superhero candidate. At this point, it looks like the Republicans are headed right to 1964.
    So, James, you are think you are right to start thinking about not making the comfortable choice, but the choice that’s right for the country, even if you detest the candidate that’s the right choice. You might have to make it.

    Maybe one day Doug will get to where you are (though I doubt it).

  17. Neil Hudelson says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s a touch call. Buchanan was a coward and an idiot as a President, and did no favors in his support for the Dred Scott decision, but I feel he gets blamed unfairly for failing to stop the brewing split between the states. I think by the time he was elected, that door had already closed.

    Whereas Pierce actively campaigned on national expansion through specifically adding more slave states–even setting up plans for invading and annexing Cuba as a slave state. And he advocated for the Kansas-Nebraska act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and did the most towards setting us on a path to civil war. (Well, it did the most outside of the fact that, you know, we had slavery.)

  18. Joe says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    @DrDaveT:

    Gentlemen: No need to fight. If James truly is the vampire-aged voter you hypothesize, he could have voted for Both Pierce and Buchanan, in that order and, thus, comporting with @cian‘s suggestion that James voted for the worst president twice. See? We can all be winners.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Buchanan was a twit but if any president gets the blame for bringing on the Civil War it should probably be Polk. By launching his dishonest war of conquest against Mexico he was feeding southern ambitions to expand the reach, profitability and durability of slavery and undercutting tenuous power sharing arrangements. He was also as it happens giving practical battlefield experience to a generation of soldiers who would be the generals in the coming conflagration.

  20. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Sandy Greave: Ben Carson is a YEC. If there’s a better indication of arrogant stupidity over an acceptance of reality, I haven’t seen it.

    If Carson gets elected, I’m emigrating to anywhere that wants my brains.

  21. edmondo says:

    How’s that coronation going over at the DNC?

  22. Kari Q says:

    One of the things I love about this site is that a discussion of Carson’s chances of being nominated can lead to a discussion on the merits and demerits of Pierce, Buchanan, and Polk.

  23. JohnMcC says:

    @Kari Q: Well, then, let me point out that the Tennessee boy James K Polk also stabilized the US currency which had been in free-flight after Andrew Jackson (another Tennessee boy) had dissolved the central bank. He also settled the Oregon border with Canada without a war (you should google “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”). And then went home after one term.

    The Mexican war is indeed a blot on an otherwise worthy record.

    Isn’t our little salon fun?!

  24. JohnMcC says:

    @edmondo: Let’s check with T-rdblossom — uh, I mean Karl Rove. He was so amazing at that coronation business last time.

  25. stonetools says:

    I’ll point out Andrew Johnson also makes the “Worst President Ever ” semi-finals as well. If we get to a President Trump or Carson, though, we may have a new winner of the “Worst US President” sweepstakes-one that gets to play with nuclear weapons, too (shudder).

  26. Ken in NJ says:

    @Grumpy Realist: Ben Carson is a YEC. If there’s a better indication of arrogant stupidity over an acceptance of reality, I haven’t seen it.

    Frankly, that should be an immediate and and irrevocable disqualification in the mind of any rational person. Young Earth Creationists are, without exception, either 1) Willfully ignorant; 2) Shameless liars; or 3) Both. In my experience, there is no third option. They are utterly unqualified for any political office, in my opinion.

    She’s obviously much more qualified by experience for the job than Carson or Trump. And Carson is sufficiently extreme on the issues that I’m likely closer to Clinton.

    “likely”?

    The man believes that our planet is 6000 years old – a belief that is complete, utter, total and transparently stupid anti-scientific nonsense. It flies in the face of all scientific knowledge of the last two centuries. His ability to make rational decisions based on evidence is clearly either completely nonexistent or so seriously compromised as to be so. And yet, when faced with a choice between this pig ignorant kook and Clinton, You’re only “likely” closer to Clinton than Carson?

    The fact that you have to force yourself to even consider the possibility of voting for a Democrat in the face of a Republican candidate that is obviously completely unfit to hold office is sad. Sadder still that even after forcing yourself to consider it, you’re still only “likely” closer to the rational candidate.

  27. Ken in NJ says:

    @Ken in NJ: In my experience, there is no third option.

    yeah, fourth

  28. M. Bouffant says:

    Ben Carson, armchair archaeologist:

    Ben Carson: Egyptian Pyramids Built For Grain Storage, Not By Aliens Or As Tombs
    “…you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

  29. Grewgills says:

    @M. Bouffant:

    Ben Carson: Egyptian Pyramids Built For Grain Storage, Not By Aliens Or As Tombs

    I think he might have gotten that from playing Civ (III?). When you build the pyramids all of your towns get a free granary.

  30. Jen says:

    @Grumpy Realist: Carson is apparently not a YEC. He’s a creationist, yes, but believes the earth is billions of years old.

    I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading up on him, I think he’s looney and unqualified, but apparently he’s now needing to defend his “old earth” views:

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/ben-carson-defends-old-earth-creationist-worldview-tennessee-megachurch-149090/

  31. Tyrell says:

    An independent could be very attractive and do well in this election.

  32. DrDaveT says:

    @Grewgills:

    I think he might have gotten that from playing Civ (III?). When you build the pyramids all of your towns get a free granary.

    That was certainly true in Civ II, which is the version I still occasionally play. I don’t remember whether it was true in the original Civilization, the one that made me sleep deprived for a couple of years in my teens…