Ben Carson: Political phenomenon

Mark Preston | 12/2/2014, 9:16 a.m.
It was 1965 and Ben Carson, an eighth grade black student in Detroit, was stunned.
Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon and a popular figure among conservatives. CNN

— It was 1965 and Ben Carson, an eighth grade black student in Detroit, was stunned.

Unable to control her anger, his teacher lashed out at white students for failing to outperform Carson, who had just been awarded the class's highest academic achievement. In an interview last week, Carson described the teacher as being from a time when some people thought "how can a black person ever intellectually do better than a white person?"

"To her, it was the most abnormal thing that ever happened in the history of the world," Carson said. "To me, I was determined I would show her."

Nearly 50 years later, Carson -- relatively unknown outside of conservative circles -- is on the verge of becoming a political phenomenon. He placed second behind Mitt Romney in a CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday asking Republicans about their preferred presidential nominee in 2016. Though his support only reached 10% in the poll, Carson outpaced more high-profile potential presidential contenders like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

He's gaining traction as an African-American in a party that is struggling to connect with minority communities. But Carson is remarkably checked when asked about how, to this day, he deals with racism.

"If somebody has a problem with the way that I look, more power to them," Carson said. "Let them sit and stew in it. I just got so many more important things to do than to deal with that."

That doesn't mean he's silent on the racial issues of the day. After last week's violence in Ferguson, Missouri, Carson slammed President Barack Obama for contributing to poor race relations.

"I actually believe that things were better before this president was elected," he told radio broadcaster Hugh Hewitt. "And I think that things have gotten worse because of his unusual emphasis on race."

He's offered provocative commentary on a wide range of other issues, telling FOX News in May that the Veterans Affairs scandal was a "gift from God to show us what happens when you take layers and layers of bureaucracy and place them between the patients and the health care provider."

In a March interview with Breitbart, he compared the modern American government to Nazi Germany.

And at the 2013 Values Voters Summit, Carson said Obamacare is "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery."

The 'PC police'

For Carson, abandoning political correctness is a central element of his persona -- and something that's winning fans in the GOP base. Carson recently appeared at an event for the Family Leader, an influential social conservative organization in Iowa.

"He was very well received, and enthusiastically well received," said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the organization, who noted Carson spoke to 900 attendees about pressing domestic concerns including cultural issues, foreign policy, and his disdain for political correctness.

"It is like a breath of fresh air when he talks about not being politically correct and how he won't be controlled by the 'PC police' and he will say what needs to be said," Vander Plaats said. "That message really resonated."