The Sideshow 2016: Of Carson, Fiorina, and Huckabee
At the outset, this post is likely to offend some of the ardent supporters of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and, especially Mike Huckabee. You have been warned.
Caveats aside, a second stream of Republicans are making their national debuts this week. Yesterday, Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon-turned-conservative-firebrand, announced that he would be seeking the nomination for President. It looks like he will have a more formal declaration event in Detroit later this week. Carly Fiorina, former HP CEO and failed California Senate candidate, announced she would run on Good Morning America this morning (5/4). Former Arkansas governor, ex-preacher, ex-FoxNews host, ex-snakeoil salesman, ex-Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee looks to announce tomorrow (5/5).
None of these candidacies are a particular surprise to people who have been watching Republican electoral circles. For the records, the Republican field now has an African-American male, a female, two Hispanics, and a libertarian competing for the White House. The Party is certainly making a showing of its diversity. The mean age of Republicans in the race is 52.4 years old (the average age of Democrats in the race is 70).
Carson and Fiorina realize that their campaigns are, in all likelihood, futile. First, that’s not to say they shouldn’t run for President. Quite to the contrary, the influence of Ron Paul on an entire generation of Republican voters has shifted large swaths of the Party towards a more accommodating stance on prickly social issues like drug use, incarceration rates, and gay marriage. Second, both Fiorina and Carson bring nuances to the GOP field that did not exist in previous elections.
Let’s be abundantly clear. The fact that Carson is African-American and that Fiorina is a woman play a large role in their candidacy. The Party need not shy away from this reality. Rather, embracing the growing diversity in the Party is something in which the Republican Party has lagged behind popular sentiment. If someone like Ben Carson can reach out to African Americans who feel disillusioned with the Democratic Party (see: Baltimore) and the policies that perpetuate poverty, that’s not a bad thing. Certainly some on the left will paint Carson in the most negative of lights. We have already seen the vitriol leveled against black leaders who break from the Democratic line (see: Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sewell and Michael Steele for examples). While Carson is likely to face this strong liberal headwind, he, in some ways, is a pioneer for Republicans as well. There is no denying that there is residual racial animosity in the Republican Party (feel free to debate amounts and the fact that there is also racism in the Democratic Party as well). However, most studies on prejudice show that prejudice arises from a lack of education. A beneficial side-effect of a prominent Carson campaign could be finally putting to rest the misguided perceived institutional racism in a small minority of the Party.
The problem with Carson, unfortunately, is that he has never run for a major office in his life. While his supporters will be quick to say this is certainly not a Constitutional qualification for the nation’s highest office, the reality is that the average American is not merely going to take someone’s word that they would be a good leader (look at what happened when a majority of the nation believed a first-term Senator from Illinois would be an effective leader in the 21st century). This lack of political experience makes itself painfully obvious when Carson expounds on his views. Carson’s comments that homosexuality is a choice were generally deplorable and this was not the first gaffe Carson had made on the subject. Regardless of your opinion on homosexuality, the national mindset has changed rapidly even since the last Congressional election (even moreso since the last Presidential election). With the Supreme Court likely to decide that same-sex marriage will be “the law of the land” in late-May or early-June, and poll numbers for acceptance of gays and lesbians creeping ever-higher, the Republican refrain on the subject will have to change. Even if Carson’s views reflect an opinion shared by vocal members of the hard-right, the reality is that, unlike with abortion where poll numbers have remained consistent (even tending pro-life) since the 1970s, the issue of gay rights has been decided.
The other major problem of Carson’s candidacy is that his message is already swallowed up by the more effective candidacy of Ted Cruz. Cruz’s early announcement and political calculation to be the candidate of the hard-right and evangelical base made him the champion of the Tea Party. It will be difficult to find any light between the opinions espoused by Carson and those of Cruz. Thus, the issue becomes: if you are a hard-identity conservative, which one do you choose? While you would remain sympathetic to Carson and try to get him as a Vice President or a Secretary of Health and Human Services, you see Cruz as the better of the two to best get into the White House.
The issue of electability will also likely dog Carly Fiorina. Fiorina’s candidacy will likely look something like this: “I am a strong, Republican woman who ran a major company.” This really is great. Having a woman with business credentials who can go after Hillary in a way that the media would blast any man for doing is a benefit to the Party. However, any digging into Fiorina leads to the inevitable conclusion that she’s just not the woman to be the Republican nominee. Fiorina’s time at HP was not good for the company and she was roundly criticized for her poor management of the company. Certainly she can shoot back that this was criticism of a strong female in an executive role, but the image will have already been presented. Even worse for Fiorina is her disastrous 2010 campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer. While Fiorina was not expected to win the race, her campaign was roundly slammed for being terribly mismanaged.
While Marco Rubio has a chance at the White House but is likely running to be Scott Walker’s Vice President, it is unlikely what boon will come from either Fiorina or Carson’s campaigns. Certainly both will increase their national prominence and likely make a lot of money in the process, but since neither can deliver a state, it would be very unlikely that either would appear as a Vice Presidential candidate.
The mind-boggling problem with Fiorina and Carson is that both are in the same positions in their home states. Both United States Senators Barbra Boxer and Barbra Mikulski are not seeking re-election. It would have been better for Fiorina and Carson to seek these seats in order to brush up on their political gravitas before jumping for the nation’s top job. Also, because of their degrees of national prominence, Fiorina and Carson, though they would have been underdogs in both Senate races, would have been able to bring national attention to the races and may have been able to get more money from national donors than the Republican candidates will inevitably receive.
So what about Mike Huckabee?
I have so very little interest in writing about the former Governor of Arkansas. Thankfully, like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz has eaten up whatever base Governor Huckabee thinks that he will be walking into. Now, there is a chance that Huckabee could do well in Iowa and South Carolina. Certainly he has advisers looking at poll numbers and seeing that he could make a sizable dent in the race. He also has some fundraising capability.
The reason why Huckabee will not win the nomination is the same reason Mitt Romney chose not to run: voters are looking for something new. Certainly Huckabee’s views on marriage equality are outside of the new mainstream. Moreover, his constant harping on Protestant-Christian messages mixed with neo-conservative expansionism turn off large numbers of young voters. Huckabee’s average demographic support likely will come from late-50s-to-retired white Protestants. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of money and support in this group. However, the realistic outcome is that Huckabee will not be able to maintain his support against someone like Ted Cruz who can chip away at Huckabee’s proposed base and add in the Tea Party far-right middle-aged voters.
Huckabee will likely be in the race just long enough to make another boatload of money then be off to a mega-church somewhere in the South (or become the President of a University).