Commentary: The GOP's Latest Black Conservative Darling

Ben Carson has hinted at running for president in 2016. But does he have a chance?

Posted: 04/03/2013 10:39 AM EDT

It seems that every other year the conservative movement has a new African-American star it wants to highlight. Years ago it was Larry Elder and Alan Keyes. More recently, it was Allen West, the GOP congressman who lost his bid for re-election last year, and Herman Cain, the businessman who briefly ran for president. With the best days of those men’s careers behind them, it appears as if it’s time for a new Black conservative celebrity to step forth, and the man to do so this go-round is Dr. Ben Carson.

Carson is the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. Formerly a self-described “flaming liberal,” Carson told the New York Times in a recent interview that his Republican conversion came about due to a perceived lack of personal responsibility within the Democratic Party. “One thing I always believed strongly in was personal responsibility and hard work,” he said. “I found the Democrat Party leaving me behind on that particular issue.”

Nobody really knew who Carson was until several weeks ago, when he gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast and used it to criticize Obamacare and taxing the wealthy. Ever since that day, he’s become a conservative darling, taking GOP speaking gigs and touring the television circuit. Carson has even talked about running for president, an idea cheered on by a number of other conservatives (the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on its op-ed page called “Ben Carson for President”).

But for all his supportive fans and his charmed ascent, Carson’s brief foray into politics has not been without its missteps. Last week he appeared to compare gay relationships to bestiality, saying of same-sex marriage, “no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the [definition of marriage].” And this week Carson said white liberals are “the most racist people there are”: “Because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box, you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”

Carson has since apologized for his bestiality comments, saying as a Christian he has “the duty to love all people” and he “never had the intention of offending anyone.” But the damage was done, and Carson looked like yet another Black GOP darling who wasn’t as prepared for the spotlight as it initially seemed.

One of the more interesting qualities about people like Carson and Cain, you see, is that oftentimes, despite the wellspring of conservative support behind them, they’re really just not great politicians. People want them to be great, with high hopes for an increasingly strong and diverse GOP, but few rarely are, and thus you see the kinds of flame-outs that have befallen Cain and Keyes in the past. Carson is still on the rise, of course, so perhaps he’s much different than it would appear. But you shouldn’t hold your breath.

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