There’s genuine concern that the social compact between the federal government and the citizenry has been skewed inexorably to the left, such that Washington is growing out of control and sticking its fingers into every aspect of Americans’ lives. The anxiety is magnified by the feeling that they are helpless to do anything about as long as President Obama sits in the Oval Office.

In Carson, they have a champion for the idea of America as they remember it and hope to see it revived. In speeches, Carson lionizes the up-by-your-bootstraps, personal responsibility, story of the American dream long popular with Republican presidential candidates. But what makes Carson so effective is his discussion of the topic as a matter of American tradition and morality, rather than simply the best way to get a job and grow the economy.

Carson doesn’t dispute the GOP dogma that smaller government is better economics. But his point is that it’s the best way to build a better, fairer, unified country. And while he’s at it, Carson lets people know that valuing personal responsibility and a diminished federal government doesn’t make them callous and uncaring — in fact, just the opposite. It’s left many of them feeling understood by a politician for the first time in a long time.