The invisible candidate
This year’s race for the GOP presidential nomination is the most interesting in recent memory. The grassroots cry for conservativism has been nearly swamped by a populist wave; Donald Trump’s savvy media manipulation captures a “YUGE” portion of media attention. Governors and experienced politicians have dropped out of the race early. More governors are likely to drop out in the weeks ahead.
Another interesting element of the campaign is the invisible candidate. He is well known and respected for his non-government career, a recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian. He spent his entire career making life and death decisions and becoming one of the strongest team builders and problem-solvers our nation has seen.
He is in the race because hundreds of thousands of citizens drafted him to run. In spite of, or perhaps because of his lack of political experience, he has consistently polled as one of the top four candidates for more than a year.
That invisible candidate is Dr. Ben Carson. Yes, the thousands of people who attend his campaign rallies can see him. They love him and respond enthusiastically to what he has to say.
But the media have made him the invisible candidate.
Ever since Carson surrendered to the draft Carson movement, the political establishment and media, including Fox News, have dismissed his campaign as Quixotic. Last summer, he was seldom mentioned in conjunction with the 2016 GOP race. Last fall, the media increased coverage of his campaign when he moved into second place nationally and, at one point, first place in Iowa. Even then, he was considered a sideshow whose star would fade quickly.
And fade it did. After the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, voters focused on national security issues. With Carson still coming up to speed on those issues, the prospect of a Carson presidency instilled less confidence than it had before. Senators Cruz and Rubio rose in the polls as Carson’s numbers declined.
Yet Carson remained in double digits while a large majority of candidates struggled to break 5 percent in the polls.
The media began to ignore Carson. They focused on the top three—Trump, Cruz and Rubio—then on the remaining governors, whose poll numbers were all less than half of Carson’s. The casual observer might wonder, what ever happened to that Carson guy who was running for president? His name seldom made the news.
What causes the media to ignore a candidate who remains in the top four of 12 to 17 candidates? Carson chooses not to attack the other candidates; he avoids creating controversy with other candidates. He would rather focus on the serious issues that face the nation. Is that ratings poison?
Perhaps the media ignore Carson because they think they know best who is a viable candidate for president. Media elites are well connected in Washington; they have covered many election cycles. Carson doesn’t meet their criteria for what a viable candidate looks like. When he dipped in the polls, they smirked knowingly and thought, “we knew he wouldn’t last.”
Rather than dealing with him objectively, the media set Carson aside as an irrelevant candidate. But they also said that Trump would have his fifteen minutes of fame and be out of the race by September.
Carson was given as little time during debates as possible. At the time of the Iowa debate, he was the third highest polling candidate on the stage, yet his speaking time was just 6 minutes, 11 seconds. That was the least of the seven candidates participating and less than half the time of each of the two highest polling candidates.
In New Hampshire, Carson received 8 minutes, 46 seconds, again the lowest in the field and nearly 10 minutes less than Cruz and Rubio. One reason Carson receives less time is that other candidates choose not the attack him. Each time a candidate is attacked by another, they are given time to defend themselves.
Is Carson so unimportant that he deserves to be the invisible candidate? He has well thought-out policy proposals on the critical challenges facing America, from tax reform to national defense to immigration to cyber defense. His tax reform plan was dubbed the best of any candidate in the field by Steve Forbes.
Carson’s plans are serious and developed with the input of some of the most respected experts in their fields. But policy is boring. Controversy attracts viewers, and viewers mean ad revenue. The media may not see much benefit in covering a candidate who doesn’t attack other candidates or say and do controversial things.
Ben Carson will never gain the attention of the media as long as they can afford not to give it. But as he likes to say, the media doesn’t elect the president; the people do. Carson is right in that respect. It will take the support of millions of people to push him back into the limelight.