Today, retired pediatric neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson appeared on The View to discuss his endorsement of Donald Trump. Whoopi Goldberg, one of the five hosts of the ABC talk show, hammered Carson on why he would support someone who has said so many things that people perceive as racist or sexist when Carson was seen as the sensible voice of reason for most of the campaign.
Carson did not answer the question at first because, to him, it doesn’t matter what the man says, only whether or not he can win the election and do what’s best for the people. This answer was not good enough for Goldberg who continued to pound home that the doctor was, in fact, Ben Carson and that nothing that Carson had ever done aligned with what Trump had done. Carson finally answered that, yes he was a voice, but that’s not what the American people want. “When you’re very nice and you talk about the issues, what happens? You get where I got, which was nowhere!” I supported Dr. Carson in my personal life throughout his candidacy and would’ve written more about him more if it wasn’t for the amount of school work that college forces one to do and a surgery that made me more or less useless for all of Christmas vacation. But I think what Dr. Carson said today needs to be looked at more closely. Can a respectable, non-inflammatory person win political office?
It depends on what state the country is in during the election.
Hillary Clinton has not been argumentative or nasty at all in this election, but that’s because she’s had no real competition in the general primary. The Democratic party is more-or-less united, even to the point that Bernie Sanders refused to exploit her emails for his own gain. The Democratic base is content with furthering the policies of Barack Obama, which gives them the advantage. Further, Clinton can’t afford to have people think that she is anything but a nice person because so many voters already don’t like her. If it would have helped her cause to go after Bernie Sanders more viciously, she would have done it in a heartbeat. If Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb were actual competitors, she would have dragged them through the mud. Don’t mistake that for a minute. But why get dirty when you don’t have to?
Donald Trump did not have this luxury. The Republican field was as tough as it could have been and it’s unlikely that we will ever see a Republican field like it again. The unfortunate thing about this field is that everyone was too nice and Donald Trump exploited that. His bombastic attitude and divisive comments made him stand out among the “nice” Republicans and earned him more media coverage than any other candidate on either side of the aisle. Would Trump be where he is, five hundred or so delegates from (probably) winning the Republican candidacy if it weren’t for his media tactics? No. He would not. The Republican base was/is so fed up with business as usual that Trump could easily tap into their dissatisfaction and turn it to his advantage. If we were at the end of the Reagan administration instead of the Obama administration, Trump would have dropped out in October. But people are mad and Trump is thriving.
Does this mean that no “nice guys” could win the highest political office in the United States today? Are there no more Reagans? In Federalist 27, Alexander Hamilton did not believe that the people will be inclined towards being dissatisfied with the federal government as long as they were doing a good job. “…there seems to be no room for the presumption of ill will, disaffection, or opposition in the people.” Therein lies the reason why the nice guy is incapable of winning the 2016 election. The economy has been bad for almost a decade and people blame the government for their bad luck, whether it is earned or not. This creates all three of the dispositions that Hamilton understands might cause the people to rise up. A similar thing happened in 1980 when Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination and the presidency. Tough economic times and a frustration with the political elite drove the American people to elect the outsider.
It is the same way now. There is a reason why the presidents who are elected during times of prosperity, and have prosperity throughout their tenure, are forgotten by history. There can be no great stories if there is no great conflict. In times of conflict, philosophic ideas and debates that center completely around the issues are not exciting enough and do not offer quick enough relief to the ills of the American people as concrete proposals. The Great Wall of Trump is so appealing because it offers a quick answer to a problem that Americans are worried about in a way that they understand. This year, many of the people who struggle to live and work the right way, in other words: live honest lives, see people living on welfare or coming into the nation illegally and become angered. They believe that Trump offers fast-acting results and economic prosperity because he has the reputation of being a great business man. His yelling, name calling, and wild flailing of arms excites his supporters. Calmly speaking on the issues like Ben Carson, Rand Paul and others attempted to do during the debates did nothing for them. They were too nice. Ben Carson might have won in 1996. There was no way for him to win in today’s political climate without changing who he was. People love conflict. They love brashness. They love to watch a train wreck because it is fascinating.
As far as I can tell, nice guys can’t win during a time of struggle and division because cooler heads do not prevail when the people are scared. There are people who don’t care if Trump is the right man for the presidency as long as he can destroy the establishment and the culture of political correctness. They don’t care about any rationally thought-out objections to his promises and proposed policies. All they care about is the animalistic feelings of comfort and nationalism that Trump’s actions inspire in them. Nice guys can win when people are calm and satisfied. They just can’t win in 2016.