There's A Thin Line Between Grifter And Messiah
Credit: DonkeyHotey
November 4, 2015

Smart, jaded sophisticate Jonathan Chait is asking this again:

Is Ben Carson Running for President?

You know what he's getting at:

... Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency.

But why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't it be both? Or why couldn't he and his handlers be running a for-profit brand-building operation even as he's actually talked himself into the notion that he seriously be the Leader of the Free World despite knowing jack about doing the job?

Yes, I know that his campaign seems like a big money-churning operation:

His campaign itself is structured much more like a scamming venture than a political one. An astronomical 69 percent of his fund-raising totals are spent on more fund-raising. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, spends just 4 percent of his intake on fund-raising.) In addition to direct mail, Carson seems to have undertaken a massive phone-spamming operation. Spending most of your money to raise more money is not a good way to get elected president, but it is a good way to build a massive list of supporters that can later be monetized. Perhaps it is a giveaway that the official title for Armstrong Williams, the figure running the Carson “campaign,” is “business manager,” as opposed to “campaign manager.” It does suggests that Carson is engaged in a for-profit venture.

But how is this different from the way a lot of big, high-profile, lucrative churches are run in the heartland? They're about Jesus and money. Strap a lie detector onto the preachers who run those churches and they'll register as telling the truth when they say Christ is their top priority even though they know how focused they are on cashflow. People lie to themselves. People believe they're good even if they're corrupt and venal.

Chait writes:

Even those concerned with his methods grant him the presumption of innocence -- right-wing commentator Erick Erickson, running down Carson’s astronomical fund-raising costs, frets, “I suspect there are some who see Carson as a cash cow.” But it is a fallacy to imagine that a kook cannot also be a scammer. There is a long tradition of cult leaders, televangelists, and other snake-oil salesmen who were both.

But it's also a fallacy to imagine that a kook and a scammer can't also have a messiah complex. How many personality cults are there in which the guy robbing the flock blind actually believes he's the exalted figure he tells the follower he is?

Chait grants that:

It is possible that Carson has come to genuinely believe that he is qualified to serve as president.

Yeah, I think so -- or at least I think the idea has seriously taken hold in his camp:

Remember, conservative rhetoric values the untutored amateur over the professional. Society's real guarantors of personal safety are civilians with guns, not cops. College professors and Ivy League graduates are to be looked upon with suspicion; country musicians and the Duck Dynasty guys tell us the plain truth, even about science. The greatest man to ever occupy the Oval Office was an ex-movie actor regularly mocked as an unschooled dolt. Why wouldn't a guy who's imbibed this ideology of amateurism believe that he really can be president if lots of people are telling him he can?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Carson's doing a better job of running for president than people we're all reasonably sure are running for real -- Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul. Have we've been wrong about them? Are they actually running for president?

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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