Ben Carson, a world-famous neurosurgeon and newly minted conservative folk hero, announced Sunday in an interview with a Florida TV station that he is seeking the Republican nomination for president. He will make a formal declaration Monday in his home town of Detroit.
Carson said on CBS affiliate WPEC-TV that he is ready to be part of the “equation.”
“Many people have suggested to me that I should run for president, even though I’m not a politician,” he said, adding: “I began to ask myself, why are people clamoring for me to do this? . . . I’m not 100 percent sure politics as usual is going to save us.”
The announcement is the latest stop on a sudden journey to conservative superstardom. Carson, 63, burst onto the political scene in 2013 when, addressing the typically nonpartisan National Prayer Breakfast, he spoke about the dangers of political correctness, put forward the idea of a flat tax, and criticized President Obama’s health-care law. What made it stand out: He did it right beside a steely faced Obama.
That week, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial titled “Ben Carson for President.” He made the rounds on Fox News, where at one point Sean Hannity told Carson that he would vote for him “in a heartbeat.” By August of that year, there was a “National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee.”
The media whirlwind was hardly his first brush with fame. Before taking the conservative world by storm, Carson was famous for an up-from-his-bootstraps life story in which a young black kid growing up in poverty became at the age of 33 the youngest major division director in Johns Hopkins Hospital history. He was the first pediatric neurosurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head and wrote best-selling book, “Gifted Hands,” about his life. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr played the doctor in a movie about his life story.
When “Gifted Hands” was published in 1990, the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote a blurb on the back calling him a “model to all the youth of today.” For a long time his appeal was so apolitical, he says, that he was offered the job of surgeon general by both George W. Bush and Obama.
His plan at the beginning for 2013 was to retire from medicine and spend his days in Florida relaxing and learning how to play the organ. But that all changed after the speech, in large part because of to the efforts of John Philip Sousa IV (yes, he’s related to the composer) and Vernon Robinson, who started the “Draft Ben Carson” effort. To date, the group has raised close to $16 million — more than the Ready for Hillary PAC raised — has gotten half a million signatures encouraging Carson to run, and has 30,000 active volunteers across the country, according to Sousa.
“I continue to travel around five or six states a week,” Carson earlier told The Washington Post. “And wherever I go there are huge enthusiastic crowds of people saying, ‘You’re our hope.’ That made me believe that I owe it to those hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who feel that way.”
Carson has made a name for himself as a “tell it like he sees it” insurgent. This has won him fans for his bluntness. It has also won him critics for exactly that reason. He’s gotten himself into political hot water by saying that Obamacare is the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” said the current-day United States is “very much like Nazi Germany” and said that allowing same-sex marriage could lead to allowing bestiality.
Even his political team has admitted that perhaps he needs to work on his messaging.
“If I could create the Webster’s dictionary of words Dr. Carson could use in the campaign, there would be some words I’d leave out,” his campaign chairman, Terry Giles, told The Post earlier this year. But that unfiltered style lies at the heart of his appeal. At the foundation of Carson’s campaign is an opposition to “political correctness” that plays particularly well in places with staunchly conservative bases, such as Iowa.
A polling composite from Real Clear Politics has Carson in fifth place in Iowa behind Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul. Even Carson and his team will readily admit that he is a long-shot candidate. But being at the back of the pack will allow him to run the kind of campaign that only an underdog can pull off.
“I’m different because I’m not a politician,” Carson told The Post. “I’m not going to do things just because they are politically expedient.”