2016: The GOP’s Four Faces

Why Ben Carson Can Win

I’ve written nary a word about Ben Carson. That changes today, because underneath the quiet, soft-spoken image is a man with a plan, and that plan is working.

Dr. Ben Carson is doing something no one has done in decades, combine a values-laden conservative message with a soft-spoken, humble persona. Others who have sought Reagan’s mantle have emulated elements of the Gipper’s approach, but none have spoken the language of freedom and the morality of the Bible with such eloquence and calm until now.

He talks about moral decline without the rancor or anger that typified other past favorites of the party’s religious conservative faction. He talks about the loss of American freedom without the sense of foreboding and doom that characterize all too many who seek to lead the tea-party wing. He talks about fiscal restraint and tax cuts without seeming to care more about numbers than people, as too many have who’ve sought the favor of the party’s fiscal-soft libertarian faction. And he so far has projected the calm, deliberative nature that somewhat conservatives crave.

It should be no surprise, then, to learn that Carson runs well among all of these factions. All recent national polls with subgroup data show that Carson runs better among conservatives than moderates, but only Public Policy Polling breaks down the GOP electorate into enough subgroups to let us see clearly what’s at work.

Carson’s appeal to the somewhat establishment conservative is palpable. He received 19 percent of the very conservative vote and 22 percent among the somewhat conservatives. Contrast this with tea-party favorite Ted Cruz and establishment favorite Jeb Bush. Cruz gets 15 percent of very conservatives but only 5 percent of somewhat conservatives. Bush on the other hand gets a measly 2 percent of very conservatives and only 9 percent among somewhat conservatives. Bush does well nationally only because he gets 21 percent of moderates, but since they make up less than a third of the national party this is a recipe for Jeb’s defeat. The humble neurosurgeon gets two and a half times the support among the classic GOP median voters than does the Party’s $100 million man.

We can see this even more clearly by looking at the subgroup results stemming from a question uniquely asked by PPP. The firm asks GOP voters if they care more about nominating the most conservative person or about nominating the person with the best chance to win. Carson currently receives 18 percent among the those who want the most conservative person and 16 percent among those who care most about winning the general. Cruz gets 14 percent among those who want the most conservative, but a paltry 2 percent among those who most want to win (who, by the way, are a majority of the party). Bush’s figures are reversed: 5 percent among the backers of conservatism first, 13 percent among those who back winning first.

The Carson love fest is unlikely to continue simply because he is too strong not to attract negative assaults that seek to pull him down. When that happens, we will see how firm this support is. But for now, Carson is as close to unifying all wings of conservatism as anyone since George W. Bush in 2000.


Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at UnHerd.com, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.


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