Ben Carson is following Jimmy Carter's presidential playbook

Enter Carter, who was as un­con­ven­tion­al of a Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate as it got back then. He was as much as an out­sider with­in the Demo­crat­ic party then as Car­son is now. He won his lone cam­paign for gov­ernor of Geor­gia in 1970 by court­ing con­ser­vat­ives in a ra­cially-charged cam­paign that at­tacked his Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent as an urb­an lib­er­al. Carter’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign showed sur­pris­ing grass­roots strength by fo­cus­ing his ef­forts on the then-in­sig­ni­fic­ant Iowa caucuses, fin­ish­ing ahead of all the oth­er can­did­ates in the race.  

He was a quirky pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate: Dur­ing the race, Carter pledged to re­lease every piece of gov­ern­ment in­form­a­tion about UFOs avail­able to sci­ent­ists—after fil­ing a UFO re­port him­self as gov­ernor. He sat down for an in­ter­view with Play­boy, ac­know­ledging that he “com­mit­ted adul­tery in [his] heart many times.” That didn’t stop him from win­ning the pres­id­ency at a time when the pub­lic was em­bra­cing out­siders, scram­bling the elect­or­al map in sur­pris­ing ways for a party that nom­in­ated George McGov­ern four years earli­er. (That year, Carter nearly swept the South and car­ried Mis­sis­sippi, Alabama and Texas—the last Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee to win those deeply con­ser­vat­ive states.)

Car­son, like­wise, is about as un­con­ven­tion­al as a Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate as you could come up with. He’s Afric­an-Amer­ic­an, and grew up in poverty in in­ner-city De­troit. He was such a suc­cess­ful neurosur­geon at Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity that Cuba Good­ing Jr. starred in a movie about his ca­reer. His only ex­per­i­ence with polit­ics was when he at­tacked the pres­id­ent’s health care law to his face at the 2013 Na­tion­al Pray­er Break­fast. He’s one of the best-fin­anced Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in a crowded field—with over $30 mil­lion raised at the end of Septem­ber—thanks to a wide­spread grass­roots fun­drais­ing net­work.

Car­son’s re­cent string of in­flam­mat­ory com­ments about gun con­trol and Is­lam, com­bined with ig­nor­ance about the debt ceil­ing, is do­ing little to dent his strong ap­prov­al rat­ings—in­clud­ing among mod­er­ates, in­de­pend­ents, and even some Demo­crats.