It's safe to say that Ben Carson, the celebrated neurosurgeon and inspirational speaker who announced his presidential candidacy Monday, will not win the GOP nomination. Not only because the lone political novice to win a major party's presidential nod since World War II was the more familiar-to-Americans Dwight Eisenhower, but because Carson is running on his inexperience and rhetorical dazzle after seven years of a previously inexperienced president made originally famous by his speeches and books. There's a broad school of current Republican thought that the 2016 nominee has to be a governor with practical executive experience; these are not the best conditions for the Donald Trumps and Herman Cains of the world.
But Carson has some arrows in his quiver that other outsider longshots usually do not. For one, he's a remarkably successful author—his two-decade-old memoir is currently the #272 book on Amazon, his last book was a New York Times bestseller, and I'd wager that his forthcoming release will outsell the rest of the GOP field's combined campaign verbiage. And Carson's rags-to-riches story, now polished over decades, can out-Horatio Alger just about anybody's.
The question is what will Carson do with his self-conscious, "I-don't-want-to-be-a-politician" political incorrectness. To my happy surprise, he spent a good chunk of his announcement speech hinting at a Ross Perot-style crusade against the massive national debt and its drag on the economic growth:
We…are going to have to concentrate on fixing the broken economy. Eighteen trillion-plus in national debt—and we have representatives who applaud themselves if the deficit does not go up as much this quarter as it did last quarter. They are completely out to lunch. We have got to drive that thing back down. It is our responsibility.
You need to know who your representatives are. You need to know how they voted, not how they said they voted. If they voted to keep raising the debt ceiling, to keep compromising the future of our children and our grandchildren, you need to throw them out of office.
Eighteen trillion: Think about what that means. If you try to pay that back [at] a rate of $10 million per day, it would take you over 5,000 years. We are putting that on the backs of people coming behind us. This will be the first year that the national debt exceeds the GDP. Economists will tell you that when the debt-to-GDP ratio reaches 90 percent, at that point economic slowdown is inevitable. We have been doing this for a while now.
From 1850 through 2000, our economy grew at a rate of 3.3 percent, at least, even during wars. From 2001 through 2014, it grew at rate of 1.8 percent. That seems to be the new norm. You probably saw the headlines recently in the last quarter—it grew at like 0.2 percent. This is not good; I don't care how anybody tries to spin it. This is what happens when you have a GDP-debt ratio of 103 percent.
This is what we have got to fix. We have got to fix it immediately. We cannot continue along that pathway. It will have dire consequences in the long run.
Without vouching for Carson's specific numbers here, I would be happy if he made such talk the centerpiece of his campaign, particularly at a time when the new GOP congressional majority is already going wobbly on spending. If the guy's gonna be sucking up oxygen in the race, he might as well be focusing monomaniacally on the giant sucking sound of debt service.
Sadly, those weren't the only comments Carson made this week….
* In Iowa, Carson advocated using oil subsidies to, uh, build ethanol fueling stations!
* On Newsmax TV, when asked what President Carson would do to preserve traditional marriage in the face of a possible Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, he issued the following gobbledygook:
First of all, we have to understand how the Constitution works. the president is required to carry out the laws of the land. The laws of the land come from the legislative branch. So if the legislative branch creates a law or changes a law, the executive branch has a responsibly to carry it out. It doesn't say they have the responsibility to carry out a judicial law.
* And in a CNBC interview published today, he doubled down on his comment that President Barack Obama "reminds you of a psychopath."
Neither the chin-scratching policy pronouncements nor the rhetorical grenade-lobs are likely to hurt Carson's prospects in the short term, since part of the allure of outsiderdom is to say unspeakable things. But they could hobble his ability to be a persuasive antagonist to the Washington debt machine, which would be a missed opportunity.