With the midterm elections barely over, potential presidential candidates are already emerging. One anticipated Republican candidate is intriguing, but may also face some opposition as the party becomes better acquainted with him.
Former director of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Ben Carson, has never held office before and has been a favorite of conservative grassroots activists for nearly two years.
Carson gained notoriety in February 2013 for a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast where he spoke about the dangers of political correctness, excessive taxation, and the need for health savings accounts while President Barack Obama sat nearby.Within conservative media circles, Carson was seen as standing up to President Obama in place of a Republican Party too afraid to do so.
Carson was lauded on talk radio for speaking "truth to power," while also representing "a threat" to the Obama agenda. One conservative columnist wrote that, "Carson himself doesn't hesitate to violate all the soul-shrinking nostrums of political correctness."
In July, Carson won a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit in Colorado and in March came in third at the annual CPAC straw poll, finishing only behind U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Though not necessarily a good measure of whether a candidate can win the nomination or general election, straw poll victories are early signs that a candidate is viable and can organize supporters.
Despite many plaudits, Carson may also have to reconcile some past statements that could leave his admirers shaking their heads.
Although Carson announced support for health savings accounts at his Prayer Breakfast speech, he also said in an interview with Megadiversities that the country needs to "get rid of for profit insurance companies." He appeared to contradict himself when he went on to say that while government should be "responsible for catastrophic health care," health insurance companies still had a function by being "responsible for routine health care."
In an interview with Fox News, Carson was asked how he might change affirmative action. Suggesting race-based affirmative action was no longer necessary, Carson alluded to maintaining the practice for those in a "disadvantaged category" and "calling it compassionate action," because as a country "we have always rooted for the underdog."
On guns, Carson has noticeably shifted. While talking with TV and radio host Glenn Beck in 2013, Carson implied that he would like to see semi-automatic weapons banned from large cities:
"It depends on where you live. I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I'm afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it."
Carson recently addressed some of these questions to clarify his 2013 comments. While on a trip to Iowa, he said he would never "allow a bureaucrat to remove any law-abiding citizen's rights for any kind of weapon that they want to protect themselves." Yet he also mentioned he could support some "reasonable gun control" measures, such as those designed against a "mental patient" and anyone with a "history of violence."
Many of these statements may simply be attributed to a political novice who is still forming his opinions ahead of a possible presidential run. However, as someone who has never held office, Carson's statements are all voters have to judge him. While a Ben Carson presidential run would likely generate some initial excitement, he will also be faced with scrutiny and an expectation that certain past statements are clarified.