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
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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.

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“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.”

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