The silliness about a Ben Carson presidential bid just got sillier. With much fanfare, he recently gathered a flock of supposedly well-heeled donors, boosters, and political operatives in Palm Beach, Florida, and announced that he's formed a PAC with the presumptuous name One Nation to prep for his 2016 White House bid. As in past times, when he's teased the media and some of the more gullible GOP acolytes into actually thinking that his presidential talk is anything more than an amusing sideshow, it makes good copy. And just as in past times, when he pops off about a White House run, no one ever asks the obvious question: Beyond his endlessly milking of his rags-to-successful-neurosurgeon story and a few inane quips about President Obama and Democrats before packs of ultraconservative fawners and groupies, what makes him real political timber, let alone presidential stuff?
Then again, that's really not the question anyone who buys into the Carson silliness would ask, since he has about as much of a chance of mounting a serious run for the White House as someone has of winning the Big Prize lottery without buying a ticket. Carson has currency for only one reason: He's black and can be trotted out to make those ridiculous digs about Obama. He can say what GOP ultraconservatives and unreconstructed bigots want to say about Obama, but it just sounds better coming out of Carson's mouth. The GOP has turned this tactic into a studied art with black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas. But Carson makes far better copy than Thomas, because, unlike Thomas, Carson actually speaks, and when he does, he'll say something just ludicrous enough to get attention.
In the Obama era the GOP has worked overtime to tout, cultivate, prop up, and showcase a motley collection of black GOP candidates for a scattering of offices. The aim is two-fold: to find that someone who can have just enough luster and media appeal to be a counterbalance to Obama while at the same time allowing the party to thump its chest and claim it's not racist.
Carson seemingly fits that double bill -- actually, triple bill, because he gets even more attention for the GOP. But, more importantly, the notion of Carson as a presidential candidate touches a deep, dark, and throbbing pulse among legions of ultraconservatives who think that Obama and many Democrats are communists, that gays are immoral, and that the healthcare-reform law is "slavery," as Carson infamously quipped, meaning a tyrannical intrusion by big government into Americans' lives. Mainstream GOP leaders can't utter this idiocy. They must always give the appearance that they are above the dirty, muddy, hate-slinging fray, so they leave it to a well-paid stalking horse like Carson to do their dirty work for them.
But let's assume, for a moment, that Carson is the real presidential deal. Again, the road to the 2016 GOP presidential nomination will be a knock-down, drag-out, bruising, low-intensity war. The names that have already staked out turf for that battle -- Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and a cluster of popular GOP governors -- are deeply embedded in the GOP political hierarchy. They have money, means, and a dedicated, entrenched following. They have wooed and courted the key state party leaders and potential party delegates who will make or break a candidate in the key party primaries later next year. Their work has been ongoing, and it requires a team of professional, connected, and financially stout party officials to do the hard leg work required.
Then there is the gauntlet of the GOP presidential debates. These are equally vital for a potential candidate to prove that he or she has a firm grasp of the big-ticket policy issues: immigration reform, health care, education, taxation, jobs and the economy, and foreign-policy concerns. Who can forget the moment in the November 2011 GOP debate when Perry put his foot in his mouth when he couldn't name the three agencies of government that he vowed to eliminate if elected president? His candidacy quickly was yanked off life support. A well-placed sound bite or pithy remark won't cut it here. There has to be real substance behind the answers that serious presidential candidates must and are expected to give in the heat of a debate, in interviews, and in policy speeches to groups of potential supporters.
Carson's supposed backers see all of this as a plus. That he is the old self-made, non-politician patriot who simply wants to unite the nation sans hard political nostrums won't fly, in part because of the hard-wired, encrusted, political-insider dominance over the presidential-vetting process, and in bigger part because Carson is nothing more than a curiosity, good for a few more spots on the TV-talk-show circuit. This is just enough to ensure the silliness of Carson will continue.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles and KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.