The Draft Ben Carson Movement Is Having a Great Day

On Tuesday, the retired neurosurgeon became the first Republican to officially jump into the presidential pool.

National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller
March 3, 2015, 7:29 a.m.

Dr. Ben Car­son is scrub­bing in.

In a video re­leased Tues­day, Car­son — a re­tired neurosur­geon who has quickly be­come the most prom­in­ent black lead­er in the Re­pub­lic­an Party — an­nounced the launch of his ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee to run for pres­id­ent.

{{third­PartyEmbed type:you­tube id:Gze5c­qk2O5U}}

“If I run for pres­id­ent, it will be be­cause I know what it’s like to grow up in a tough neigh­bor­hood and feel mar­gin­al­ized. If I run, it will be be­cause I know firsthand that qual­ity edu­ca­tion is the lad­der to climb out of poverty and de­pend­ence,” Car­son said in the video. “While I don’t claim to have all the an­swers to every ques­tion that plagues us, I do have a pas­sion to reach out, listen, and build com­mon­sense solu­tions to the prob­lems that are hold­ing us back as a na­tion.”

He is the first Re­pub­lic­an con­sid­er­ing a 2016 bid to set up an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee. In Novem­ber, Jim Webb be­came the first (and, so far, only) prom­in­ent Demo­crat to do so.

While no oth­er prom­in­ent Re­pub­lic­an has formed an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee yet, nearly all of the politi­cians ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing a pres­id­en­tial run have either es­tab­lished vaguely named lead­er­ship PACs or tax-ex­empt 527 groups to start fun­drais­ing on a na­tion­al scale. Car­son him­self has a lead­er­ship PAC, USA First, which he launched last fall.

It’s worth not­ing that the pres­ence of Car­son’s ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee, Car­son Amer­ica, does not mean Car­son is now an of­fi­cial pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate — only that he is “ex­plor­ing” that pos­sib­il­ity. Car­son has said he will of­fi­cially de­cide wheth­er he will run for pres­id­ent by May 1.

As Ron Elving wrote in 2006, the an­nounce­ment of the ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee is a long-held polit­ic­al tra­di­tion for gar­ner­ing me­dia at­ten­tion and rais­ing money without hav­ing to fully dis­close the source of dona­tions:

Can­did­ates use an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee as not only a trans­ition­al phase for their book­keep­ing but as an ex­tra claim on me­dia at­ten­tion. Some of the most skill­ful hand­lers like to leak word that their can­did­ate is test­ing the wa­ters, then leak word that he or she is think­ing about form­ing an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee. Ad­di­tion­al “news” can be made when the same can­did­ate ac­tu­ally forms such a com­mit­tee and re­gisters with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Yet a fourth round of at­ten­tion may be gen­er­ated when the word ex­plor­at­ory gets dropped from the com­mit­tee fil­ing.

Car­son’s an­nounce­ment comes shortly after his speech to the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence, where he offered his take on Obama­care, Com­mon Core, and Is­rael.

At the end of the day on Fri­day, the Na­tion­al Draft Ben Car­son for Pres­id­ent Com­mit­tee — which changed its name on Monday to the “2016 Com­mit­tee” to get ahead of cam­paign fin­ance laws — hos­ted a cock­tail re­cep­tion for Car­son sup­port­ers, of­fer­ing swag such as Car­son ‘16 bump­er stick­ers and Car­son-themed cal­en­dars. The crowd of sup­port­ers skewed older, with a hand­ful of col­lege stu­dents scattered throughout. As at­tendees noshed on cheese and crack­ers, beef ka­bobs, and mini em­panadas, the lead­ers of the Draft Car­son group trum­peted their ac­com­plish­ments.

John Philip Sousa IV, the straight-talk­ing chair­man of the Draft Car­son group — and great-grand­son of the fam­ous march com­poser — said his team has raised $15 mil­lion so far. “Eat your heart out, Hil­lary!” Sousa said on Fri­day. Tami Cali, a seni­or ad­viser to the draft com­mit­tee, said the group was “more than cer­tain” that Car­son would soon an­nounce an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee. She was right.

That trum­pet­ing will surely con­tin­ue this week. Ver­non Robin­son, the draft com­mit­tee’s cam­paign dir­ect­or, said his group’s vo­lun­teers were es­sen­tial to con­vin­cing Car­son to take this step, and noted that this is the first suc­cess­ful con­ser­vat­ive draft since the ef­fort to draft Barry Gold­wa­ter in 1964.

“The 30,000 vo­lun­teers who played a cent­ral role in chan­ging Dr. and Mrs. Car­son’s mind about run­ning for pres­id­ent are the real her­oes,” Robin­son told Na­tion­al Journ­al on Tues­day. “Nobody cre­ates an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee now just to ex­plore. If they cre­ate an ex­plor­at­ory com­mit­tee, they’re run­ning.”

Robin­son par­tially cred­ited the suc­cess of the draft cam­paign to Car­son’s book tour last sum­mer.

“Thou­sands of our vo­lun­teers showed up at that book tour with Run Ben Run ban­ners,” Robin­son said. “I think that the vo­lun­teers who ral­lied to the cause of draft­ing Ben Car­son get al­most all the cred­it for chan­ging his mind.”

Wheth­er or not the draft com­mit­tee had a sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on Car­son’s de­cision, it’s clear that his camp in­tends to take his can­did­acy ser­i­ously. Car­son’s team re­cently hired three Re­pub­lic­an op­er­at­ives who worked on Newt Gin­grich’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and the hires keep rolling in. However, Car­son will still have con­sid­er­able hurdles to over­come, in­clud­ing the in­ev­it­able claims of his in­ex­per­i­ence work­ing in polit­ics.

Lib­er­als may scoff at the idea of Car­son as a vi­able can­did­ate, but as Fred Barnes re­cently wrote in The Weekly Stand­ard, Car­son should not be so eas­ily dis­missed. He has a com­pel­ling per­son­al story — per­haps more so than any Re­pub­lic­an he’s up against — he’s staff­ing up with vet­er­an GOP op­er­at­ives, and he has proven him­self to be a for­mid­able fun­draiser. A Gal­lup Poll in Decem­ber found that Car­son is the sixth-most-ad­mired man in the U.S., in between George W. Bush and Steph­en Hawk­ing.

Robin­son said his group is “ec­stat­ic” about the news, and he said it will help his group draft not only Car­son, but also draft a mes­sage to push with me­dia out­lets and the group’s 500,000 email sub­scribers.

“There’s a Mes­sage of the Week meet­ing in 12 minutes,” Robin­son said. “Some­times we don’t have a Mes­sage of the Week, and we have to punt. At least we won’t have to worry about that today.”


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.