Fox News' White House gambit: Incubating candidates on the power of wingnut welfare

Mike Huckabee and crazypants Ben Carson, with a very generous assist from Fox News, inch toward 2016 bids

Published November 13, 2014 4:31PM (EST)

Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Bill O'Reilly               (Fox News)
Megyn Kelly, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Bill O'Reilly (Fox News)

The demise of the 2014 midterm election cycle has left a gaping political news vacuum, and some opportunistic conservatives are seizing the moment to get their names in the headlines by dropping some hints about 2016. One of those conservatives is Ben Carson, a celebrated neurosurgeon and extremist nutjob who earned the lasting admiration of right-wingers everywhere for his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, in which he criticized President Obama to his face. RIGHT IN HIS SOCIALIST FACE. Immediately after this famous act of political courage, very serious conservatives began scrawling “President Ben Carson” in their dream journals.

Well, Carson seems to be taking up their suggestions and is apparently serious about a run for the presidency in 2016. The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi talked to Carson's bizarre retinue of advisers and acolytes who are working to turn the 2016 dream into a reality, and they’re plenty committed to the cause.

There’s no earthly reason for Ben Carson to run for president. If he runs, he won’t win. At best he’s a flash-in-the-pan candidate, and a weak one at that, somewhere between the “Rent Is Too Damn High” guy and Michele Bachmann. Carson’s campaign will likely be rooted in the principles that propelled him to conservative stardom in the first place: an unquenchable hatred of Barack Obama and a refusal to be “politically correct,” which makes him about as qualified for the presidency as your uncle Mark after his fourth Shiner Bock.

Carson’s stances on social and domestic issues are … what’s the mot juste here … ah yes: bugnuts. He believes gay marriage is a neo-Marxist “New World Order” plot to undermine America He proudly poached this theory from Cleon Skousen, a fringe anti-communist radical from the Goldwater era who would later provide the inspiration for Glenn Beck’s deranged worldview. On healthcare reform, Carson made headlines for himself last October by proclaiming the Affordable Care Act to be “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” That’s certainly an “edgy” opinion! Let’s put it in a bit of context by making a list:


1. Slavery
2. A law that provides government-subsidized health insurance
3. Jim Crow, Japanese internment, the Vietnam War, 9/11 (tie)

But because much of the conservative movement is thoroughly rotten and will gladly overlook the moral bankruptcy of your worldview so long as you’re sufficiently charismatic in your criticisms of Barack Obama, Carson is celebrated as a “rising star” rather than shunned as a “lunatic embarrassment.”

The other conservative who’s capitalizing on the news lull to stoke speculation about his 2016 ambitions is Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and then watched his campaign slowly fade into nothingness. In the six years since, he’s been carefully nurturing speculation that he might one day run again, and the Washington Post reported yesterday that he’s “reconnecting with activists and enlisting staff to position himself in a growing field of potential Republican presidential candidates.”

In some ways, Huckabee and Carson inhabit the same space: Huckabee’s social views are way outside the mainstream (he recently threatened to quit the GOP if they give up the fight on gay marriage) and his dislike of the president sometimes leads him to say very silly things (he’s said Obama deserves impeachment, dabbled a toe in Obama birth conspiracies, and predicted last year that Obama would not finish his term in office because of Benghazi). Still, he’s a far more viable presidential contender than Carson, given that he’s a former governor, and the fact that he’s done it before and achieved some degree of success. But would he actually run?

It’s important to remember that Huckabee has spent the years since 2008 building a tidy little activist empire for himself. There’s the Mike Huckabee podcast, the Mike Huckabee cable news program, the Mike Huckabee political action committee, the Mike Huckabee series of creepily propagandistic pro-Republican children’s cartoons, and the Mike Huckabee book club. Speaking of Mike Huckabee’s books, it just so happens that he has a new one coming out in January. It’s called “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” an improvement from the working title: “I’M A SOUTHERNER FROM THE SOUTH LET’S TALK ABOUT THE SOUTH.” If Huckabee were to run for president, much of his little self-promotional kingdom goes away, including the most important piece of it: his Fox News contract.

And that gets to a larger point about these two would-be candidates: A big reason we’re even talking about them as presidential aspirants is the fact that Fox News furnished them with a paycheck and a platform until such time as they could step out on their own politically. Carson was a Fox News contributor until his presidential aspirations became too glaringly obvious and they had to suspend his contract. Huckabee’s Fox gig is still intact, though pressure is mounting on the network’s executives to pull the plug.

It’s becoming something of a rite of passage for washed-up or out-of-the-game conservatives: keep yourself in stasis at the Murdoch network, make a few bucks while you’re at it, and then launch a long-shot bid for the White House. No one expects that you’ll actually win; it’s just something that you do.

By Simon Maloy

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