Ben Carson: The Outsider Steps Into the Race

Analyzing the style, substance, and impact of the retired neurosurgeon's presidential announcement.

Carson Announces 2016 Bid, Says He’s "Not a Politician"

Style: Not a traditional campaign kickoff speech, but rather a combination of conversation, sermon, and skillful routine. His impressive mind and deep humanity were on vivid display as he talked about his early life, inspirations, and general sensibility. Strolled the stage with wireless gear, speaking in his signature deliberate style.  Poignantly told the story of his mother, who is in ill health. Embraced and projected his outsider, anti-establishment, faith-inspired persona throughout.

Substance: Spoke in the vaguest of generalities when describing America’s current problems, and offered even fewer specifics about how to deal with national security, jobs, the troubles besetting his adopted hometown of Baltimore, and pretty much everything else. Promised an “in-depth” economic speech in the near future.

Best moment:  All smiles and effortless charm as he began his talk, wife Candy at his side, by introducing their family.

Worst moment: Gamely joked about his boyhood-era “favorite drug dealer,” which, while cheekily mischievous, might have confused some listeners.

Overall:  Many White House dreamers hope to build their candidacies on biography; Carson knows exactly how to tell the story of his family history in an accessible, disarming manner. Denounced a culture of dependency on social programs with references to the Founders, eliciting huge cheers and demonstrating again how he has built such an intense national following.  A strong performance, one of his best, but not guaranteed to elevate him to the next level.

Carson Announces Bid, Says He’s ‘Not a Politician’

Note: The overall grade is not an average of the style and substance grades, but takes into account other aspects of the announcement as well, such as staging and crowd reaction.  In addition, a candidate’s overall grade reflects the degree to which the candidate’s standing in the race is improved by the event and performance.

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