Dr. Ben Carson, who has come under criticism from social conservatives (including me) for some of his rhetoric on abortion and (in my case) for his lack of rhetoric on gay marriage, has just emerged as a marriage champion, signing the National Organization for Marriage’s extensive marriage pledge, along with Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum. Mike Huckabee has refused to sign any external pledges.
NOM’s marriage pledge is extensive, far more extensive than I would ask a presidential candidate to sign onto.
Carson, Cruz, Jindal, and Santorum have now vowed to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as involving one man and one woman, to work to overturn Obergefell by appointing originalist judges and by choosing an attorney general committed to this goal, to prevent the use of public schools to promote a redefined version of marriage, to ask the Justice Department to document and publicize cases of harassment of gay-marriage dissenters, and — in my view most important — to support the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from stripping an employee or a corporation of equal access to a government benefit because of opposition to gay marriage.
Carson, you may recall, decided in early March to apologize for remarks suggesting that some gay people have a choice about their sexual orientation, after the media deluged his campaign with questions that made it difficult to get any other message out.
But when the Obergefell decision came down, he followed up this tactical retreat with a surprisingly brief public statement whose first sentence emphasized: “While I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, their ruling is now the law of the land.” Carson called for general religious-liberty protections from Congress, but made no specific promises.
The welcome news that Carson has made a commitment to pass the First Amendment Defense Act comes just as the neurosurgeon outsider has also emerged as a serious contender for the GOP nomination.
The same punditry that has had a hard time taking Donald Trump seriously as the frontrunner has been slow to recognize Carson’s ascendancy since the first GOP debate on August 6.
In Trump’s case, the skepticism continues despite his leading in national polls, despite his leading in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina polls, and despite the fact that he has amazingly turned around his favorability profile among Republican voters from a net negative to a net positive. “It’s a phenomenon we have never really seen before — an already extremely well-known figure who can completely flip his favorability ratings in the span of weeks [without the intervention of a national emergency or similar event],” said Patrick Murray, the pollster who conducted a recent Monmouth University South Carolina poll, “But of course, that rule has applied to our experience with typical politicians. Trump is completely outside the box.”
This is not about immigration. It is about voters who feel the current system is rigged against their futures and their families and who are in a mood to throw the bums out, all of them. Governors, who in past elections played the role of Washington outsiders, are finding it particularly difficult to gain traction as anti-establishment types — witness the continuing slide of Scott Walker and Jeb Bush.
So, taking Trump seriously leads one naturally to take more seriously the other major outsider in the race, Dr. Ben Carson.
Among national polls taken since the first debate, the Real Clear Politics average has Trump leading at just under 24 percent, Carson second with just over 10 percent, and Bush third with just under 10 percent. Rubio, Cruz, and Walker are tied for fourth at 7.3 percent.
In Iowa, Real Clear Politics posted three post-debate polls, all from the second week of August. The average had Trump ahead at 19 percent of likely caucus-goers and Carson second with almost 12 percent, ahead of a fading Walker at 11 percent.
The latest New Hampshire poll (August 21 through 24) is the Democratic PPP poll. It shows Trump towering at 35 percent, with Kasich second at 11 percent and Carson sixth at 6 percent. (The Susan B. Anthony List noted that Carly Fiorina’s third-place finish behind Kasich and Trump makes her the first serious female contender for the GOP presidential nomination.)
The only post-debate South Carolina poll up on Real Clear Politics is the recent Monmouth poll (August 20 through 23), which shows Trump at 30 percent and Carson solidly in second place at 15 percent, with Bush fading to 9 percent and Fiorina and Rubio at 6 percent.
The Monmouth South Carolina poll also allows us to look at the voters’ second choices. It seems that 41 percent of voters chose Trump as their first or second choice, but Carson came in a strong second, with 27 percent of voters naming him their first or second choice. Carson’s favorability/unfavorability ratings are also extraordinary. He is quite well known among South Carolina’s GOP voters, with just 19 percent having no opinion. An astonishing 8 to 1 ratio (72 percent to 9 percent) of South Carolina Republicans have a favorable opinion of Dr. Carson, a ratio to which no other candidate comes close.
With no money and a fraction of the media attention Trump can generate, Ben Carson is in second place in national polls and second place in Iowa and South Carolina. Clearly his strong, principled voice is striking a chord.
— Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project. She blogs at MaggieGallagher.com.