Carson versus Trump

  • 15 September 2015
  • NormanL
Donald and the Doctor

Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been exchanging a few rhetorical barbs on the campaign trail -- understandable with Carson's rise to the number two spot in the polls. But what's Carson's real appeal -- and why has he become a force in the nomination contest? Here are a few clues, based on the TV movie about Carson called "Gifted Hands:" Carson swiftly rises in the presidential polls, [the movie] is a reminder that his appeal is fundamentally apolitical, even anti-political, a backlash against the kinds of candidates who go to Iowa to deliver scripted sound bites and explain their seven different five-point plans while rehearsing a bullet-pointed list of their accomplishments in office. The very existence of a soft-focus biopic like this reveals just how different Carson is from every other candidate in the field: He’s not a governor, or a legislator, or even a business executive—he’s a movie-of-the-week-ready medical miracle worker with none of the political baggage that can drag a more conventional candidate down.

How does this distinguish him from Trump?

There’s little doubt that the simultaneous rise of both Trump and Carson has something to do with the similar nature of their appeal as outsiders. But there are crucial differences as well. Trump, a flashy attention-seeker who inherited massive wealth and connections from his New York construction magnate father, had every advantage handed to him. Carson, the self-doubting young man raised in Detroit by a financially strapped single mother, made himself and his life with practically no built-in support. In this sense, Carson isn’t another Trump; he’s the anti-Trump—a truly self-made man.

Voters in this presidential election cycle have -- for now -- shown they want something different. Trump, Carson and Carly Fiorina, combined, poll a majority of GOP voters -- leaving the rest of the field lagging badly.

We are still months away from when the first votes of the 2016 campaign will be cast. Were voters heading to the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire today, Trump would win handily. But right behind him would be Ben Carson. Two men who have never held elected office, but each of whom has qualities voters say they want and expect in a president.

Will either Trump or Carson be the nominee? The Republican establishment certainly hopes not, and is working hard to ensure that neither man comes close to the nomination. But we are also in a political environment where the old rules seemingly no longer apply.

Perhaps that's a good thing -- and long overdue.

And keep in mind: the last time the GOP nominated a presidential candidate who had never held elected office was...Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.