I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Who cares?
Republican presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson has put his public campaign events on hold for two more weeks to go on book tour for his new tome “A More Perfect Union” and catch up on fundraising events…
This week he is catching up on fundraising events and will be back on his book tour next week making stops in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. So for the next two weeks, Carson won’t be appearing at any public “campaign events.”…
The campaign says the next time they will appear publicly with Carson will be the day of the next GOP debate on Oct. 28. His last public campaign event was Oct. 2…
Carson’s campaign staff will not travel with him while on tour, noting that it’s better to stay off the trail for fear of being accused of using campaign assets to sell books.
Read that again. He’s not suspending his public campaign appearances for two weeks, he’s suspending them for two more weeks. He’s already been off the trail for the past 13 days. And since then, he’s had two of his best national polls to date. CBS had him above 20 percent, within single digits of Trump, in a survey conducted last week and Fox News had him just a point behind the frontrunner in their new one a few days ago, a poll brimming with data favorable to Carson. How’s he managing that without pressing the flesh in the early states? Simple, I think: He’s made the most of his TV appearances. As Trump himself memorably said of Carson this week, “He’s been getting a lot of ink on the Muslims and other things [i.e. gun rights]. And I guess people look at that and they probably like it.” Indeed. The guy’s campaigning, for the moment at least, in true 21st-century style, using mass media and controversy to keep him in front of voters. He won’t be able to rely on that long-term — Iowans need to be reassured periodically of how special they are with face time — but for a few weeks? If you were Carson, given how well things have been going lately and how far out the window the rules of normal presidential politics are this year, why wouldn’t you think you could get away with a little break for a book tour?
I don’t even think it’s necessarily the case, as Leon Wolf argues, that this proves Carson’s presidential campaign is really just a big promotional stunt for his book and post-candidacy career. Here’s an alternate theory: Everything he’s done as a candidate so far has worked out for him, so why wouldn’t he continue to trust his instincts and do a couple of weeks of book stuff? At $20 million, he had the biggest third-quarter fundraising haul of any Republican candidate — more than Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined. He’s watched Scott Walker, the one-time frontrunner in Iowa, implode and seen fellow social conservatives like Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal struggle to match his own strength in that state. He routinely polls even higher than Marco Rubio in metrics of personal favorability. And as noted, he just had his best polls of the cycle. Even when he does something risky, like address the topic of a Muslim president or gun rights in Nazi Germany, it seems to work out by only making him more popular with Republicans. BuzzFeed’s Katherine Miller pointed on Twitter this morning to this NYT piece from a few days ago showing how Carson’s begun to lose his filter on the trail — with good results so far:
His campaign team cringed at the statement [about a Muslim president] and advised him to retract it, said Armstrong Williams, Mr. Carson’s business manager and a top outside adviser. They feared the comment “could be a game changer for him, and not in a good way,” Mr. Williams said.
But Mr. Carson refused, explaining to follow-up interviewers, who noted that the Constitution forbids religious tests for public office, that he meant a Muslim who followed “Shariah law” should not be president.
“In the past, Dr. Carson was very sensitive to the people in his campaign,” Mr. Williams said. “He would listen to others and abandon sometimes what he feels deep down. But for the last two weeks he has said, ‘No.’ ”
He’s come to trust his own political instincts and has been rewarded for it, and his instincts are telling him right now that he can afford to dial back public campaign appearances in favor of smaller events related to the book. Ask yourself this: If this is all about making money for Carson, wouldn’t a smart guy like him quickly realize that he’s better off long-term doing his level best to try to win the nomination instead of undertaking a risky pause right now that might conceivably kill his momentum? The better he does with his campaign, the higher his profile will rise, and the more demand there’ll be for him if/when he ultimately falls short — TV shows, book deals, speaking engagements. Investing two weeks in his book tour right now instead of his campaign arguably isn’t just a bad move politically, it’s a bad move financially.
Which means we’re left with a question: Why would he do this? The real problem with this “book tour” play isn’t that it proves Carson’s greedy or even that he’s not taking his campaign seriously, it’s that it proves his political instincts, at least in this case, are really bad. What could two weeks of a book tour do for him that two weeks of public campaign appearances — which also operate as promos for his book given that they drum up interest in him and his views — couldn’t? And why would he risk creating the perception, articulated by Wolf, that he’s not in it to win it among Republican voters who might otherwise be well disposed to him? Are we so far outside the norms of conventional politics this year that an Iowa voter who’s trying to decide between Carson and Ted Cruz will read this story about his book tour and form no judgment about which of the two men is more committed to being president? As I say, I think Carson’s motives in doing this might be pure, but as a simple PR matter, it’s inexplicable.