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Ben Carson: CPAC’s darling No. 3

By David Swerdlick
The Root

Give this much, at least, to the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee: At CPAC this year, they went all-out for their candidate.

Ben Carson addressed the crowd on the final day of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference – before Sarah Palin’s late Saturday keynote – and autographed copies of his new book at a preferred-access signing session. Even the room keys at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md., featured his picture, with the slogan “Run Ben Run!”

And while Winston-Salem’s Vernon Robinson, an organizer of Draft Ben Carson, told The Hill that Carson is “the only guy who can broaden the GOP base, get 17 percent of the black vote, get a healthy number of Hispanic voters, while still staying true to conservative ideals,” it’d be a stretch to say that he’s the Republican “key” to winning back the White House.

Carson finished third in CPAC’s straw poll of potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders, just behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and well behind Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul – the “conserva-tarian” political darling who won the poll for the second year in a row.

But Carson made a big splash, exclaiming, “I hate political correctness,” and telling a packed house that they can count on him to “continue to defy the PC police,” after criticism over his lumping same-sex marriage in with bestiality. Also controversial has been his remark that the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

“Of course,” he added Saturday, “they’re not the same thing. Slavery is much worse.”

It’s a welcome clarification, I suppose. But it underscores his Achilles heel as a political figure. And in a passionate if rambling speech that covered everything from Vladimir Putin to the weak drachma, Carson showed why he’s a long shot to be the country’s next president.

Unlike Paul – who’s also a doctor but who first ran for Senate before gearing up to run for the White House – or Cruz, who first served as Texas’ solicitor general, Carson has never held office. It’s unclear how Republicans would rally around him after arguing that “inexperience” is what made President Barack Obama – a state and U.S. senator – unfit for office.

Robinson, who ran unsuccessfully three times for Congress in North Carolina, argues that Carson is “the only guy” who can broaden the GOP base.

But many have complained bitterly that one of the reasons Obama was twice elected is because “low-information” black voters only voted for him because he’s black. If Carson – as opposed to any other conservative – is the “only” guy who can broaden the GOP base, that’s either an indictment of the black electorate or an indictment of thinking within Carson’s camp.

Carson is perfectly suited for his current occupation as Obama’s antagonist-in-chief.

But a presidential run is a lot to put on the shoulders of a guy who’s never run for office and whose platform is a loosely sketched 10-percent flat tax, health savings accounts and holding fast to the theory that gay couples don’t deserve “extra rights,” even as courts in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas – none of them liberal outposts – have been ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

And that really isn’t brain surgery.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor for The Root.
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