So in the latest CNN poll of Republicans on their preferences for the 2016 presidential primary, Mitt Romney comes in first, which isn't surprising since people remember his name. A little more odd is the fact that Ben Carson—retired neurosurgeon, habitué of conservative confabs, and courageous warrior in the battle against the "PC police" who claim that when you compare being gay to pedophelia and bestiality, it's kind of uncool—comes in second. But as Mark Murray of NBC points out, there's a simple explanation for why Carson polls ahead of more experienced politicians: Carson is a paid contributor to Fox News, which means that Republican primary voters see him on their teevees all the time.
And Carson is actually putting together a staff and preparing for a run, which leads to the obvious question: In just what way will his candidacy crash and burn?
Actually, I don't think it will. I think Ben Carson is in this for the long haul. It's not that he has a chance at winning, because he doesn't. And it's not that he won't get in trouble for saying something crazy, because he will. In fact, Ben Carson will never not be crazy. That's his thing. He's the guy who'll say the shocking things other Republicans will only whisper. But something tells me that for Carson, the campaign is an end in itself, a noble crusade in which he spreads the word of righteousness across the land. As long as he can appear in debates and get people to come out to listen to him talk, he'll stick around.
To be honest, I find it somewhat difficult to get inside the head of the long-shot presidential candidate, but my feeling is that most of them think something like, "Yes, the odds are against me, but I've been successful before, and anything can happen, so why not give it a shot?" Which is true—anything can happen. It's just that when the unlikely candidate finds him or herself suddenly pushed along by a surge of attention and interest, it's inevitably followed by a dramatic fall.
You may remember that during the 2012 Republican primaries, about half the candidates had a brief moment when they shot to the top of the polls (or nearly so), got on a bunch of magazine covers, and suddenly got more scrutiny, which it turned out they couldn't endure. This happened in turn to Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, none of whom realistically had much of a chance to begin with.
So don't be surprised if at some point in the primary, Ben Carson is the front-runner, at least for a moment. Reporters will write stories about him, quoting his more outlandish views, and in the glare of that spotlight he'll say even more outlandish things, which will lead more sensible primary voters to move on from their temporary fascination with him. But he'll stay in the race. Why wouldn't he?