Sunday

October 22nd, 2017

Insight

An unusual field crowds the Republican pool

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published May 5, 2015

Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, is the GOP's latest presidential candidate.

It's spring, and the water must be fine, because everybody's jumping in. Carly Fiorina leaped in Monday with Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee will follow Tuesday. Republicans have never had such diversity.

There's two Cuban-Americans who speak fluent Spanish, a Baptist preacher who speaks fluent old-time values, a black man and a white woman, and "a big mule" from the Republican establishment with more than his big toe in the water. There's more to come, including an Indian-American governor. They all appear to be comfortable in their "gender," and if Bruce Jenner, a newly discovered transgendered conservative, Republican and Christian can be persuaded to run the party would have left no stone unturned. A year like no other lies just ahead.

Bernie Sanders is thrashing about at the far left end of the Democratic pool, making presidential noises, but it still looks like the Democrats are stuck with Hillary Clinton, getting a little long in the tooth, surrounded by her billions, in cool pursuit of her second inevitable presidency.

Once upon a time a presidential candidate with no experience would have been relegated to the cheap seats, told he could watch if he kept quiet. Presidential candidates were expected to get their experience as a governor, or marinated in the U.S. Senate, and only then to present themselves as worthy to be considered a likely candidate for president. The presidency had never been a position for on-the-job training.

But nobody is laughing at Ben Carson or Carly Fiorina. They're the longest of long shots, but they expect to be taken seriously. Only yesterday the idea of a black president was the stuff of pipe dreams, and now there's a credible black candidate setting out to succeed a black president. Is this a great country, or what?

Mr. Carson — he was "Dr." Carson until now, when he joins the rest of us — comes armed with the surgeon's ego he'll need in hot pursuit of the nomination. He can expect to be roughed up as only a presidential candidate is roughed up. He has been surrounded for years by acolytes and liege men eager to anticipate his every whim, presiding over his little kingdom of the operating theater. He leaves his gig as pundit and a typewriter with the "I" key worn to a metallic nub. He will have to learn to fake an authentic humility, and quickly.

Mr. Carson has been a favorite of Republicans since his famous prayer-breakfast speech two years ago when, with President Obama sitting only several feet away, he scolded and rebuked the president as few presidents are rebuked to their face. His performance recalled Mr. Obama's own emergence at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 that vaulted him into prominence as defender of traditional values and prospective healer of the American racial divide. (We know how that turned out.)

Mr. Carson can expect no mulligans. He once described Obamacare as "the worst thing that has happened to this nation since slavery," and hyperbole, a staple of Democratic rhetoric, is never forgiven on the right. He can expect to see some of his newspaper columns retrieved and presented as new breaches of the public peace.

Mzz Fiorina has no public record, except as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Anyone who has ever had trouble with a Hewlett-Packard printer (and few have) might be tempted to take it out on her now, but her feminine disdain for Hillary Clinton makes her a formidable vice-presidential candidate. She can say things that should be said but that a man cannot say. Gallantry may be mortally wounded but sexual privilege is not.

The preacher in the race — Mike Huckabee says he's a former preacher but many Baptists consider ordination like marriage, once done never undone — is a little shopworn but well-liked and regarded as a man who stands up to criticism without flinching. He has a sharp tongue and a preacher's wit. The best line of the 2008 primary debates was his criticism of big-spending candidates who throw money around "like John Edwards at the beauty shop."

He has kept in the public eye with his television show on Fox and a popular network radio program. "His performance in recent public-opinion polls show that [he] is extremely well-liked by all Republicans, not just evangelicals," says his pollster. He scores well with blue-collar workers, seniors and conservatives. And that's not just from his own pollster.

"In terms of style and rhetoric," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, tells Fox News, "he's at his best talking to white working-class voters who feel left behind by Washington and shut out by the economy." These are just the voters once locked up by the Democrats. The world is turned upside down.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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