The announcement came a few hours ago in Detroit, following a gospel rendition of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” (Really!) He hit all the major points of his campaign pitch in his speech, and by “all the major points” I mean one point: That he’s the truest Washington outsider in the field. “I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician,” he told the audience. “Politicians do what is politically expedient. I want to do what’s right.” That one soundbite alone will make him a thorn in Cruz’s and Huckabee’s sides in Iowa.
“I think it’s time for the people to rise up and take the government back,” he said on a stage in Detroit.
“The political class won’t like me saying stuff like that,” Carson said. “I’ll tell you a secret, the political class comes from both parties.”…
“I’m saying to people around this nation right now, stop being loyal to a party or to a man, and use your brain to think for yourself,” he said.
That’s Protest Candidate Rhetoric 101, and it works. I saw people on Twitter this morning guffawing that Carson’s rollout was the highlight of his campaign and that it’ll be all downhill from here. I dunno. Winning the Ames Straw Poll, as Michele Bachmann did four years ago, would be a nice little highlight. And it’s doable for him, I think, since many of the field’s heavier hitters will be looking to skip the poll this time. It means nothing to them but it may mean a lot to Carson and his supporters, who’ll be eager to show they’re for real in Iowa and who’ll relish the buzz of a win, as Bachmann’s fans did, before reality inevitably sets in next winter.
Here’s their new commercial officially launching the campaign. It’s the worst of the launch ads we’ve seen this spring: It’s too long, with the man himself unmentioned until the end, and drenched with seemingly every bit of stock footage of Americana they could find. The voiceover is hokey and there’s a weird impulse to illustrate everything that’s being said, like when the narrator talks about the world being more connected than ever before and an image of a globe with lines connecting far-flung points suddenly appears. In another sense, though, it’s the best ad we’ve seen in that it captures the essential appeal of the candidate superbly. It’s barely a political ad at all; what it is, really, is a form of motivational speaking, making the point that what America needs more than anything, even above and beyond new policies, is an attitude adjustment. That’s Carson to a T. Byron York said recently of his speeches that they often seem “more like TED talks on the values that brought him success” than political prescriptions, which makes sense when you remember that he’s been held up to black students for decades as a role model in overcoming a hard childhood to succeed wildly. (Not anymore, though. What’s a lifetime of medical excellence worth when you’ve had the gall to criticize Barack Obama?) If you share the conservative populist impulse that something has changed fundamentally in the American character and that correcting that change is the first necessary step to returning to greatness, this should be right in your wheelhouse. If you like him more than you like Cruz, it’s because you agree that change begins outside of politics, with a sort of national spiritual rebirth, a la the tagline at the end — “Heal. Inspire. Revive.” What we need as president, more than anything, is someone who can “inspire” the country into that convalescence. Even Obama’s inspiration-heavy Hopenchange campaign was a bit thicker on concrete proposals than that.
Anyway. Carson’s often compared to other longshots from the last few cycles like Huckabee and Herman Cain, guys who ran full in the knowledge that they wouldn’t win the nomination but would benefit politically and/or financially longer-term by making a decent showing. I don’t get that vibe from Carson. He’s got nothing to gain by running, really. He already has a soapbox via guest shots at Fox News to get his message out; if he was eager for more TV appearances, as he once suggested, he’s already famous enough by now that FNC could/would probably find a place in the schedule for him, a la Huckabee. If anything, Carson’s risking financial opportunities by running because he’s alienated Democratic audiences who used to view him as an apolitical American-dream Horatio Alger story rather than as a right-wing attack dog. I think he’s running now because, on some level, he really, truly believes that the thousands of people he’s met who’ve slapped him on the back for standing up to Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast a few years ago are just the tip of the iceberg of a broad national grassroots movement that’s out there waiting for him. I think he’ll be genuinely surprised when he discovers they aren’t. Which is sad.