There was a moment recently in which Ben Carson completely disqualified himself from ever becoming president of the United States. But it had nothing to do with his possible admission to West Point, hitting his mother with a hammer, or any of the semantics of his biography.
“Do you continue the war on drugs?” Radio host Glenn Beck asked Carson during the former’s nationally syndicated radio program Oct. 21.
“Absolutely,” Carson shot back without hesitation.
“You do?” Beck said, slightly surprised.
“I intensify it,” Carson followed up to stunned silence.
Carson also later went on in the interview to suggest that the Department of Education should be turned into a thought police for “extreme political bias” on college campuses.
The answers, as bad as they were, aren’t too surprising for anyone closely following Carson’s book tour presidential campaign from a policy perspective. While the man seems to have a good heart, he, like Donald Trump (who is in a virtual tie with him nationally), is making up policy positions as he goes along in an authoritarian manner. There is little that is conservative or small government about Carson, but he still carries a lot of appeal for a lot of right-leaning voters because of his calm, cool, collected and gentle presentation.
But then, this past week, came allegations of potential fabrications of his biography and people took note. He hasn’t yet taken a dive in the polls, but the media’s around the clock obsession with Carson’s possible biographical missteps has become the biggest potential threat to his campaign.
And it’s fine, for those of us who care about limited federal government if Carson drops out tomorrow or next week or next month. But it should be on policy, and not personality politics. Carson, polling near 30 percent nationally, does not resonate with supporters because of his policy proposals, which are few and far between. He resonates because of his personality and presentation, which is how the 2016 election cycle has been defined so far.
It’s personality politics that allow candidates to rise or fall dramatically after just a few minutes of speaking time per debate, that encourage Trump and Hillary Clinton to appear on “Saturday Night Live” or that make Ohio Gov. John Kasich think mentioning his father being a mailman as much as possible is a brilliant move.
The 2016 election has been about creating perceptions, and the media operates within those perceptions. Going into Clinton’s Benghazi testimony last month, pundits from the left all the way across to the center-left were complaining about Republicans making the hearing “political.” But those same pundits, joined by the Washington D.C. press corps and media elites, were the first to say post-hearing that Clinton “won,” though it’s doubtful any of those reporters listened to any of the substance of the hearing.
“How Hillary Clinton Won the Benghazi Hearing” was an actual headline in a legitimate magazine called TIME.
After every debate, in fact, you hear from roundtables of talking heads asking “who won and who lost?” But telling undecided voters they should decide whose policies they prefer based on answering a few, quick questions on cable news is adverse to really finding the right candidate.
The most recent Republican presidential debate on Fox Business Network this week was refreshing in that it did focus solely on policy and allowed candidates to create a contrast on tax plans, foreign policy, immigration, their idea of the role of government and much, much more. Maybe this is a sign that things are changing and we are entering a smarter, more policy-focused stage of the election cycle that weeds out the superficial BS and sensationalism.
Then Carson won’t have to keep answering questions about his biography, but instead more questions centered on policy. Don’t worry, mainstream press. Those questions will get rid of him just as fast, but you actually have to ask them first.