Disgust with Washington is reaching a (Fiorina!) fever pitch this week, with three new Republicans jumping into the presidential race with the boast of having no experience with the federal government. It’s enough to make the most jaded observer believe in the possibility of a transformational election. Oh wait, the election isn’t until next year. Never mind.
Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee all announced their candidacies this week. Carson (“I’m not a politician”) and Huckabee seem to be running for Pastor in Chief, with control over the world’s biggest military a side job akin to coaching church-league football, while Fiorina is a technology evangelist and the best person to ensure that the White House has the latest version of Excel. (She could determine whether the schedule for the White House tennis courts has been modernized since the Carter administration.)
None of them are given credible chances of winning in 2016. All will probably make astoundingly foolish statements regarding foreign policy during this fall’s debates, giving Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and even Scott Walker the opportunity to blanch in a manner befitting the White House. But this summer is their time to shine, waving flags and denouncing the federal government like every day is the Fourth of July.
Ben Carson, so far the only African-American candidate running in either party, launched his campaign with a dazzlingly frightening (or frighteningly dazzling) video featuring dark clouds over the White House and a barbed-wire fence symbolizing a “divided” nation. Over footage of street protests with mostly black participants, the narrator says, “we have stifled all civilized and productive debate.” (Will some voters substitute “they” for “we”?). We cannot afford “partisan rancor,” and “we have created boundaries by forcing friends and neighbors to pick sides,” according to the narrator.
The solution? “First, we must heal,” says the narrator over footage of people walking toward a simple white church. (The surgeon understandably foregoes any image that associates national healing with going under the knife.) And we need “a leader who derives his strength from God.”
In some circles, it’s jarring to go from “It is our time to work together, all of us” to an assertion of religious belief as a requirement for the presidency, especially when the candidate has compared the current president to a “psychopath” and has a less-than-inclusionary attitude toward gays and lesbians. This dissonance is not unusual, of course. In last week’s speech on criminal-justice reform, Hillary Clinton called for restoring trust “between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically,” but no one expects her to refrain from picking sides on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. Dreaming of frictionless American politics is something we do the year before an election. By next fall, we’ll be reminded that “It is our time to work together” is a polite alternative to “My way or the highway.”
•I had to pace around my apartment in glee upon learning that one of Carson’s biggest fundraisers is John Philip Sousa IV, great-grandson of the king of American marching music. This rousing bit of trivia comes via New York magazine’s Marin Cogan, who also clues us about the little boy waving a tiny American flag in Carson’s video and in a million other campaign videos. I’ll be very disappointed if no one makes a compilation video set to a Sousa march.
•Slate’s Jamelle Bouie examines Carson’s “paranoid style.” For example, there’s his claim that we can’t trust unemployment statistics because “You can make the unemployment rate anything you want it to be.” The presidential debates are going to be pretty chaotic if, in addition to disputes about data on climate change and the number of people covered by the Affordable Care Act, the candidates are argue over whether the unemployment rate is an admissible piece of evidence. But I would be entertained by the revival of water fluoridation as a precious national issue.
•The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis writes that other candidates could be surprised by Huckabee’s appeal among primary voters: “there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America. They are culturally conservative—but they also want to keep government out of their Medicare.”
•Like Carson, Huckabee is trying to get out his vote by condemning partisanship. “The country is more polarized than ever in my lifetime,” he said disapprovingly in his announcement speech.
•FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten is a bit facetious in describing Huckabee’s best-case scenario, which begins with a win in the Iowa caucuses: “Let’s say Huckabee puts together a solid showing in New Hampshire; then we move to South Carolina, where Huckabee has already shown he can compete strongly in the state’s deeply religious electorate. He’s on his way to the nomination!” The problem is that Huckabee already got the chance to go one-on-one against a candidate who was distrusted by evangelical voters, and John McCain beat him 60-31 in the Ohio primary and 51-38 in the Texas (!) primary. It’s hard to imagine Huckabee doing better against Bush, Rubio or Walker.
•Fiorina has been the odd person out in this week’s presidential campaign coverage. Vox’s Jonathan Allen explains why: “It’s hard to label her brand of Republican politics—part technocrat, part budget hawk, part social policy individualist—and even harder to see how it garners her a constituency.” Her most distinctive trait is her embrace of technology to better “engage people in the process of government.” Allen notes, “Fiorina’s willingness to take on a re-anything of government is very vice presidential,” and many speculate that she’s positioning herself for a place on the GOP ticket to somewhat balance Hillary Clinton’s nomination on the Democratic side. The mystery here is why the GOP nominee would pick Fiorina when there are plenty of Republican women who have actually won elections.