Ben Carson's freshly-minted status as arguable Republican frontrunner has thrust the retired brain surgeon and former knife aficionado under an ever-intensifying media microscope. In one of the many getting-to-know-Carson segments you'll be seeing these days, a white Republican strategist and a black Democratic strategist reached a rare point of agreement on the root of Dr. Carson's appeal, and while neither of them said it exactly how I would have said it, the general gist is something that I've been saying for months. Ben Carson is just another avatar for white male resentment, a Donald Trump for people who mind being called racist, and who won't vote for a woman.
On Sunday's episode of Up, host Richard Lui asked Republican strategist and Irish Name Generator O'Brien Murray what Carson's appeal was to a group of Republican voters, and Murray explained that Carson was a "black man attacking a black president." Democratic strategist L. Joy Williams agreed, but put it in slightly different terms:
Murray: It was his attack of Obama, and frankly a black man attacking a black president, which is something people get away...
Williams: And that's where we are.
Murray: When you talk about it years ago, remember he stood in front of the president and he made his bona fides originally attacking the president face to face, at a prayer breakfast, mind you.
...Williams: The really important thing of people supporting him because it's, oh, there's another black man commenting or -- negatively against the president, and I don't feel comfortable in doing so because of the race factor. So here's someone who can do it that's kind of --
Murray: Not at all. The question was what was he doing. He was attacking the president, and he was going after him in such a way that was very well pointed out, where the issues were with the president with Obamacare and other things. Given his narrative and history and his bio, which is fantastic --
Williams: Which is one n terms of having the, I was going to say, having the "safe negro" comment on someone that you're against.
Murray: No, not at all!
Sorry, O'Brien, but no matter how high-pitched you get when saying "No, not at all!", you're still the one who first said it was important that Carson was "frankly a black man attacking a black president," a bit of honesty that you can't unring.
In Carson, Republican voters have a candidate who scratches many of the same itches that Donald Trump does, and even then some when it comes to a jones for crazy, off-the-wall rhetoric, but whose identity provides them with a shield against their own resentment, even if that shield only works on them. Trump's fans are eager to be called racist, while Carson's are eager to point to their new black best friend.
Carson's ascent to the top of the field has been more durable than expected, but if Carly Fiorina is any indication, Trump will eventually win out. After surging in the polls on the strength of a stern-voiced Hillary-attacking debate performance, Fiorina's numbers slipped. Once GOP voters notice that their new Obama-hating totem is barely qualified to run a lawnmower, they'll gravitate back to Trump. Like the Coca-Cola guys say, ain't nothing like the real thing.
Cross-posted from Mediaite