Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has put on his thinking cap (which bears a striking resemblance to a jester’s cap) and thought some deep thoughts about American politics:
Ben Carson is not only riding high in general polls, and not only riding high in early state polls, but has positively Soviet-like approval ratings among Evangelicals, a key GOP voting bloc. Add to that the fact that he has none of the other two anti-establishment candidates' obvious pitfalls — Fiorina's decidedly mixed business record, which will undermine her claim to being Ms. CEO-fix-it once voters hear more about it, and Trump's, well, Trumpness.
Put all those things together, and Ben Carson has a clear path to the nomination.
Keep in mind that “riding high” in this case means polling consistently around 15% to 20% of the Republican electorate. Given that, Carson’s "clear path" has a long ways to go. But assuming that PEG has assessed the situation correctly and that Carson, for lack of any serious competitors, gets the GOP nomination—what about the general election?
M. Gobry concedes the obvious:
Carson has obvious pitfalls there: He says and believes out-of-the-mainstream, if not downright crazy, things. He often sounds conspiratorial. His 10-percent-flat-tax-on-everyone-and-that's-it tax plan is easily (and correctly!) demonizable as raising taxes on the poor and cutting them for the rich, while busting the budget and never standing a chance in Congress.
A candidate who says out-of-the-mainstream and even downright crazy things, and who proposes easily demonizable tax policies, doesn’t sound like much of a contender; in fact, he sounds a lot like Barry Goldwater. But PEG is undaunted: “Put that aside for a second,” he writes. “Don't worry, we'll come back to it.” But he never really does come back to it. Instead, he ignores matters of substance (and the question of Carson’s actual qualifications for office) in order to focus on Dr. Ben’s admittedly inspirational life story, because who cares about the issues anyway?
Presidential campaigns are won with narrative as much as substance, and… even though his substance is out of the mainstream, his narrative is absolute gold. His personal story is, of course, enormously impressive. His religiosity — as long as he doesn't wear it on his sleeve too much or make easily demonizable statements — is an asset.
One great example of Dr. Ben’s “religiosity” is the “easily demonizable” Biblically-based tax plan to which PEG alluded. Here’s how Dr. Ben presented that plan:
“I think God is a pretty fair guy, and He said, you know, if you give me a tithe, it doesn’t matter how much you make. If you’ve had a bumper crop, you don’t owe me triple tithes. And if you’ve had no crops at all, you don’t me any tithes. So there must be something inherently fair about that, and that’s why I’ve advocated a proportional tax system. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. And everybody gets treated the same way. And you get rid of the deductions, you get rid of all the loopholes, and…”
And everybody gets a pony.
PEG believes that Dr. Ben can get just enough of the black vote (because duh) to steal the race from Hillary Clinton, if only he would hire “a smart image and political consultant” and “run a disciplined presidential campaign”—and, most importantly, if only Dr. Ben would stop saying crazy things, i.e. things he actually believes when he’s not performing surgery: things like, Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to American blacks since slavery, Obamacare is a worse catastrophe for America than 9/11, evolution is a fairy tale, drone strikes to protect our Mexican border would be a good idea, same-sex marriage caused the fall of the Roman Empire, etc.
In other words, PEG’s suggested strategy for Carson’s road to the White House is for Carson to pretend to be someone else, and to answer all questions about his previously stated fringe views with “Never mind”.
Not for the first time, I believe that Charlie Pierce is a more reliable political analyst than PEG, and his assessment of Ben Carson is far savvier:
On almost any issue of public policy, Doctor Ben is about eight bulbs short of a chandelier.
M. Gobry doesn’t really disagree with that; he just thinks (hopes?) that it won’t matter and that Dr. Ben can finesse (or avoid) policy discussions long enough to win the election on the basis of the country’s “anti-establishment” sentiment. He concludes by declaring:
Is this the most likely general election outcome? No, of course not. But, in a universe where Donald Trump has spent months atop the polls and where Bernie Sanders is leading in Iowa and New Hampshire, is it a possible outcome?
Ben Carson, president of the United States? Strap on your seatbelts.
I don’t think seatbelts, even with the help of airbags, will be enough to save us if Dr. Ben pulls this off—which, of course, he won’t. M. Gobry really needs to stop weighing in on American politics, about which he is, as the saying goes, ignare complet.