The Carson Conundrum

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3F2WE
Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) – RTR3F2WE

The more I watch Ben Carson, the more I like him. Carson is not the usual politician in every sense of the word. While Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have gotten a lot of mileage out of being “political outsiders” this year, they still clearly have political instincts and have both assumed the tone of more standard politicians.

Ben Carson, however, is clearly different. He is confident and in command, but soft spoken and understated. He never lets himself get pulled into a negative exchange, and he keeps reporters from speaking over him by patiently and softly staying on point and on message.

Carson’s entire message and personality are a breath of fresh air at this point in the primary season. We are only on September 1st and already the toxic atmosphere of the campaign season is wearing on everyone. The presence of Trump as a candidate only makes things worse, as opinions for and against him seem to run inordinately hot – and the candidate himself contributes to the problem by hurling insults all day on Twitter.

This is why you’re seeing Carson slowly climb in the polls to the point where he has solidified his hold on second place in this race. People are responding to the cacophany and negativity in the race by latching on to Carson’s message and persona. I find myself carried along with it sometimes as well.

But I still have lingering questions about Carson’s ability to manage a large and complex organization like the Federal government. Even though both Fiorina and Trump have no experience in elected office, they can at least present a colorable story about their ability to manage large groups of people in the private sector. Personally, I think it’s obvious that managing public sector organizations is a qualitatively different enterprise, but at least Fiornia and Trump’s resume allow us to make some sort of informed judgment about their management style and ability.

With Carson, however, we simply have to guess. And that presents the great danger of Carson’s candidacy, not only to GOP but also to Carson himself.

The simple fact is that running a Presidential campaign is going to test Ben Carson’s management ability to an extent that it probably hasn’t been tested before. And it might well expose weaknesses that will linger in the public’s memory and make it difficult for him to run for office in the future.

For some candidates, I truly would not care. But for Carson, this would be a real shame, as I think he could mount a serious challenge for one of the Virginia Senate seats or gubernatorial mansion. While those races are among the higher profile races in the country due to their proximity to DC, they would still be different in kind from running for President and would allow Carson the opportunity to find his sea legs before the attack machine begins in earnest.

I think that some day he will be ready for the pressure of being the GOP frontrunner. But I don’t think he is yet.

For this reason, I have this perverse hope that Carson does not ever assume the mantle of true frontrunner in this race, as much as I like him and clearly prefer him to Trump. If that happens, he will become the target of exponentially increased scrutiny and hostility from both the press and the GOP establishment, and a promising political career might well be ruined before it starts.

The more I watch Ben Carson, the higher my hopes for him get. That’s why, strangely, I find myself rooting that, within this particular Presidential primary, he’s already found his ceiling.