This updated look at Ben Carson's chances and path to win the Republican presidential nomination is part of a series here on The Fix looking at all the top candidates. To see the others, click here.
Where does he stand in the polls?
After a surge to the front of the pack in the fall of 2015, Carson’s numbers have fallen back to Earth in a hurry. He topped out at about 25 percent in the Real Clear Politics polling average in November and briefly seized the lead from Donald Trump. But the late-campaign focus on foreign policy and national security after the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks have dropped Carson into the single digits in most polls.
His most recent average in the national polls stands at around 9 percent – still good for fourth place overall, but with basically no forward momentum. Carson is a non-factor in New Hampshire after finishing fourth in Iowa, a heavily evangelical state that is typically receptive to candidates like Carson.
How has he performed?
Carson’s momentary surge was just that – momentary – and his campaign has been prone to controversial statements and recently underwent a staff shake-up. Carson’s personal profile – as a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon and black Republican – earned him plenty of early attention, and he often polled as the most popular candidate, even when he wasn’t leading the race overall.
But Carson has been unable to adapt to the changing race, appearing confused and completely unprepared when it comes to even some basic foreign policy and national security issues. A devastating New York Times report even quoted his own foreign policy adviser expressing frustration that Carson didn’t spend more time versing himself on the issues.
What are his strengths?
Carson’s personal story is his ticket to the dance. Born into a poor family and dealing with personal issues, including by his own account anger that led him to lash out violently, Carson worked hard to become a world-famous doctor who was the first to separate conjoined twins who were joined at the head.
Carson’s personal style is certainly unorthodox for a politician – it pretty much screams “DOCTOR” – but that also seemed to appeal to people in an environment where there’s a premium on not being a traditional politician. And when it comes to someone who has spent decades walking the walk when it comes to his Christian faith, it’s not surprising many evangelicals quickly gravitated toward him.
What are his weaknesses?
Foreign policy — and policy more broadly. Carson is an incredibly smart man, by almost all accounts. Some even call him a genius. But there are different kinds of intelligence, and Carson clearly doesn’t have the kind of political and policy know-how and background that a presidential candidate needs.
Other political novice candidates in the 2016 race like Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have at least been around the game of politics for years. Carson is very much a debutante who had basically delivered a few speeches and rebuked Obamacare standing just a few feet away from President Obama at a National Prayer Breakfast. Carson had enough to get people interested in him, but the campaign has often seemed much larger than him.
What would it take for him to win the nomination?
Iowa is the kind of state that Carson needed to do very well in in order to hang around. He probably needed a win there to have any chance at winning the nomination – something that studied observers, for what it’s worth, never really saw as a real possibility, even when Carson was riding high a couple months back.
His path to victory in Iowa was basically cut off by the strength of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and even Trump among evangelicals. Given that Carson has shown almost no spark in recent weeks and is hemorrhaging staff, it's hard to see how he would ever recover and compete for anything other than honorable-mention status.