They call themselves “the Carson-ologists,” like the Kremlinogists of the Cold War.
Their task: parsing the public statements of Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who conservatives desperately want to run for president.
“We listen very carefully. He has changed tenses. A while back he said my intention is to raise money to send my kids to school, travel the world with my wife, learn foreign languages and play golf. He gave a speech a little while ago where he said, I had intended to, but God may have another plan for me. So that was a major shift,” said Vernon Robinson, a conservative activist from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
He pointed to an interview Carson gave a few weeks ago, where, he said he would “think about it,” and another in which he said ignoring the work of those trying to draft him into the 2016 presidential race would be “un-American.”
This last one was gratifying for Robinson, since he is the campaign director of the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee.
“Doctor Carson believes you can’t just look in the mirror and say, ‘Honey, I think we would look great in the White House.’ He believes as the founders did, the office should seek the man and you should be called by the American people to run for president,” Robinson said. “He said that if the American people were still clamoring for him to run and the GOP didn’t coalesce around a candidate, that he would seriously consider it because he wouldn’t turn his back on his fellow citizens. So this is the clamoring exercise. We want to show him that it is not just something three drunks in a bar thought up.”
At the Republican Leadership Conference, a three-day conservative confab in New Orleans, Robinson was adding names to his petition at a table in the Hilton Hotel’s vast ballroom. He says he has 240,000 so far, and sends 4,000 new names a week to Carson’s office. If he gets a million, he thinks Carson will consider running.
His table at the RLC had by the far the most activity—the table for Rick Santorum, nearby, was practically empty much of the afternoon.
“I am torn between him and Allen West,” said one woman who stopped by. “Definitely not Jeb Bush. I loved his brother, but who wants Jeb Bush?”
The appeal of Carson, Robinson says, is that he is the only candidate who can remain true to conservative principles and broaden the base of the party. “I want to beat Hillary Clinton and none of the other fellows can.”
Candidates like Bush, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio “want to toss Republicans overboard.” Candidates like Scott Walker are true-blue conservatives, but also, as Robinson, who is African-American, sees it, too white.
“With the right campaign he can get 17 percent of the black vote. He can get the Hispanic vote. He embodies the guy who came to this country with nothing and had great achievement, exactly what immigrants who come to this country want. He is like a poster child for the American dream!”
Robinson pulled out a branded “Run Ben Run” hotel key and handed it to a reporter, which he says “opens 80 percent of the hotel rooms in America.”
“The problem for the left is their normal demonization tactics won’t work. There are a whole generation of black folk who wanted their sons to be Dr. Carson, and their daughters to marry him. It will be a huge problem for them to demonize the guy.” If Carson departs from the Republican playbook and reaches out to black voters, Robinson, who has run for various offices in North Carolina, “he will win every swing state. The Roosevelt coalition will be destroyed. It is a good time for Republicans.”
And he thinks that Carson is able to articulate conservative principles in a way that others candidates cannot, pointing to Carson’s famous address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 in which “he destroyed the progressive income tax in five sentences, and left the left to defend a ridiculous position, that they are more compassionate than God, since God, the most compassionate force in the universe, called for a ten percent [tax] a tithe. Obviously, that is compassion, because if it wasn’t, God wouldn’t be doing it.”
As the draft committee collects signatures, they also have to turn away anonymous contributions since federal law does not permit them. As he spoke, someone dropped a $20 bill on a stack of “Run Ben Run” bumper stickers, and Robinson sent someone to track down the anonymous giver.
“Someone sent us a check for $300. I had to send it to the federal treasury because someone yo-yo scratched out their name on it. The federal treasury! A total waste of money.”