Is the conservative love affair with Ben Carson coming to an end?

Carson is touted as a conservative rock star, but there are signs that status may not last

Published January 16, 2015 6:58PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Mike Theiler)
(Reuters/Mike Theiler)

Ben Carson rose to conservative fame two years ago, when the retired neurosurgeon delivered a speech blasting health care reform at the National Prayer Breakfast, as President Obama sat feet away on the dais. A movement to draft Carson into the 2016 presidential race soon sprouted, and he later inked a contract to serve as a contributor at Fox News. Now poised to enter the GOP's presidential primaries, early polling shows considerable enthusiasm for Carson's White House bid; last month, a survey found that Carson placed second to Mitt Romney in Iowa, home to the nation's first caucuses. No serious observer expects Carson to win the nomination, but he nonetheless could be a force in the primary process. Yet there are emerging signs that the right's love affair with Carson may be coming to an end, just as Carson gears up to make his first-ever run for elected office.

On Monday, National Review's Jim Geraghty provided a damning look at Carson's ties to Mannatech, Inc., a shady medical supplement company that hawked a so-called "miracle drug" it claimed could cure a range of ailments, including cancer and AIDS. Carson's relationship with Mannatech dates to 2004;  just last March, he appeared in a video promoting the "wonderful" company's efforts "to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health." Carson made the video five years after Mannatech reached a $4 million settlement with the state of Texas after Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the company for unlawful and misleading marketing practices. Geraghty's piece, appearing in one of the leading journals of conservative news and opinion, conveyed a not-so-subtle message to the right: This is not a man with the judgment or political savvy to take up the movement's mantle.

Carson is unlikely to win any more fans with his latest bizarre remarks, delivered at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in San Diego on Thursday. In his speech, Carson compared those who fought in the American Revolution with militants fighting on behalf of the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.

“A bunch of rag-tag militiamen defeated the most powerful and professional military force on the planet. Why? Because they believed in what they were doing. They were willing to die for what they believed in,” Carson said. “Fast forward to today. What do we have? You’ve got ISIS. They’ve got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for it while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness. We have to change that.”

The likely candidate went on to say that he wasn't equating ISIS and Revolutionary soldiers -- and while conservatives may not take kindly to any comparison of Americans with ISIS, Carson did at least turn his analogy into a clear jibe at the Obama administration -- but his remarks nonetheless underscored Carson's penchant for impolitic rhetoric. He has compared homosexuality with murder, blamed feminism for police shootings of unarmed black men, and likened America in the Obama era to Nazi Germany and the antebellum South. Such incendiary remarks may fire up elements of the conservative base, but the conservative establishment has no interest in defending a candidate who would put the party in a permanent defensive mode.

To be sure, Carson is still a conservative cash cow, but the controversies surrounding him -- which now include documented plagiarism -- all but ensure that the funds and support will dry up before long, perhaps even before the first primary vote is cast. Like the half-dozen or so Tea Party candidates who enjoyed their 15 minutes at or near the top of the polls in 2012, Carson will find that right-wing stardom can prove fleeting.

By Luke Brinker

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