The OZY ‘Hunger Games’: The Doctor Is Out

The OZY ‘Hunger Games’: The Doctor Is Out

Why you should care

Because sometimes even a gifted surgeon can’t prevent an ailing campaign from dying on the table.

Remember how The Hunger Games would honor its fallen tributes? In this occasional series, OZY predicts which presidential candidates will be the next to fall — whether they know it or not.

There’s an endearing sort of charm to your candidacy, Dr. Carson. The calm, reassuring presence of an übercompetent professional, one who only wants what’s best for his country. Unfortunately, it’s not a very enduring sort of charm, as we’re bound to discover during tonight’s debate. Ever since your flirtation with front-runner status in November, your campaign’s poll numbers have been cratering, and your fourth-place finish in the friendly evangelical confines of Iowa appear to confirm that your days of operating on the American electorate are numbered (even if your campaign insists that the show will go on after you get some “fresh clothes”).

For a time, you seemed like an outsider with an inside chance of winning. A soft-spoken neurosurgeon who was a foreigner to the world of politics in vocation as well as in tone — a serious, religious man who promised an inclusive, non-adversarial campaign that would float above the fray. Alas, this will not be an election remembered as a quiet, docile affair; in retrospect, you brought a scalpel to a knife fight (too bad your knife-wielding days are over).

Your new political operation seemed to hemorrhage outlandish remarks at every turn.

It’s somewhat astonishing that you put down your real scalpel to begin with. The son of a factory worker and a house cleaner who rose to become, at 33, the youngest director of pediatric neurosurgery ever at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, you often took on the controversial, challenging procedures that other surgeons would not. “When he walked around Hopkins,” one of your colleagues once told The New York Times, “he was like God.”

So why would a man revered as a deity opt to come down to earthly Iowa to be among the swineherds, spinmeisters and politicians? Was it the call of yet another challenging operation — an attempt to remove the cancer of petty partisanship from the nervous system of American politics? Like most political outsiders, you have denounced the forces of political division. But once the rubber gloves went on, you were not so gracious or precise: From your political baptism at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 to the speaking engagements and presidential campaign that followed in which you compared abortion to slavery or conditions in the U.S. to those in Nazi Germany, your new political operation seemed to hemorrhage outlandish remarks at every turn.

For some, the cognitive dissonance of a brain surgeon struggling with imprecision was too much: The New York Times wondered how a surgeon “praised for his dedication, unassuming demeanor and attention to detail” could transform into a candidate who “sometimes seemed imprecise or ill informed.”

Such rhetorical excesses may have hurt you with more moderate voters, but they kept you in the news and raised the profile of the Ben Carson brand — already replete with 10 books, two documentaries and a TV movie — even further. You’ve managed, as The New Yorker put it, to turn your “autobiography into an industry” and, even as you were running in second place in October, you left the campaign trail for the book tour to promote your latest offering. “I don’t handle failure well,” you admitted in your first book, Gifted Hands. “I guess the Lord knows that, so He keeps it from happening to me often.”

Well, He’s not going to spare you this time. Though, of course, losing is not necessarily the same as failure. Running an unsuccessful presidential campaign can be a crushing blow or an invigorating life lesson, depending on how you look at it (just ask Al Gore). Or — and perhaps more likely — it can be fodder for a best-selling 11th book. The Ben Carson campaign may end, but the Ben Carson story will continue as long as there are those willing to pay $19.95 for the hardcover.

Here comes the man you have been waiting to see: surgeon, author and the newest member of the Fallen, Dr. Ben Carson (now) of Florida. Please form an orderly queue with books in hand.

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The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.