Ben Carson ’73 — a renowned neurosurgeon, political conservative and former member of the Yale Corporation — is formally exploring a presidential run for the 2016 election, he announced on Tuesday.
Carson, an acclaimed African-American neurosurgeon from Detroit, graduated from the University with a degree in psychology. After receiving his MD from the University of Michigan Medical School, Carson went on to become the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 33, making him the youngest major division director in Johns Hopkins history.
In 1987, he became the first surgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. Carson served as an alumni fellow on the Yale Corporation from 1997 to 2003.
Carson has written six bestselling books, including the 1992 book “Gifted Hands,” which was turned into a television movie in 2009.
Charles Ellis ’59, whose time on the Corporation overlapped with Carson’s, said he enjoyed the time he spent working with Carson, and added that he is an “enormously brilliant man.”
“Ben is crackerjack smart,” Ellis said. “And it’s not normal smart. Obviously he has a fabulous ability with his hands to do surgery that is out of this world delicate and fragile, on babies, particularly. But he’s really smart at understanding other people, and he doesn’t just understand what they’re saying, he understands why they’re saying it, and the background that causes them to believe the things that they’re saying.”
Carson jumped into the political spotlight at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, when he delivered a speech sharply critical of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Carson is the first Republican candidate to set up a formal exploratory committee for the 2016 election, allowing him to engage in initial efforts to raise money in preparation for a run, The Baltimore Sun reported on Tuesday. If he decides to enter the race, he will be able to transfer some of the funds from the exploratory committee to his presidential campaign, The Sun said.
“Obviously this is a very big step,” Terry Giles, who is serving as the exploratory committee’s chair, told the Associated Press. “Today we begin the formal process of exploring whether or not Ben can win the presidency.”
Despite the Yale College class year affixed to his name, the prospect of a Carson campaign has garnered a minimal response on campus. Of seven students interviewed, only two said they were enthusiastic about Carson’s potential candidacy, while three said they did not know who Carson is.
“The College Republicans won’t be taking any formal stance or preference when it comes to any contested Republican primary,” Communications Director of the Yale College Republicans Amalia Halikias ’15 said. “We are excited, however, by Dr. Carson’s candidacy.”
Carson’s announcement raises the possibility of there being at least two Yale alums in the 2016 election – Carson and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
However, despite Carson’s great achievements as a neurosurgeon, some are skeptical about his strength as a candidate, noting Carson’s somewhat controversial views.
“Ben Carson recently told a reporter that being gay was a choice because some [prison] inmates go in straight and come out gay,” said Hedy Gutfreund ’18, communications director for the Yale College Democrats. “That’s pretty much all you need to know about Ben Carson.”
Longtime journalist and political science lecturer Walter Shapiro, who has covered the last nine presidential elections, said he has doubts about Carson’s viability as a serious candidate.
Shapiro said a trend has emerged of individuals running for president with agendas completely unconnected to being serious political contenders. In the case of Carson, Shapiro said, it seems more like an attempt to expand upon his motivational speaking opportunities.
“He may poll well because he’s an impressive speaker, but he’s going to poll well months before anything matters, and not when people are voting on something binding,” Shapiro said.
Political science professor John Bullock said Carson has almost no chance of winning the Republican nomination, adding that Carson is “enormously inexperienced, having never held elected office of any kind.” He also noted that the neurosurgeon has “almost no support among top GOP fundraisers or other major figures in the GOP.”
With 20 months until the election, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is currently the front-runner of the 2016 Republican candidates, according to poll results released by NBC on Thursday morning. Walker won 18 percent of Republican votes in a national Quinnipiac University poll, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 16 percent. Governors Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee trail with 8 percent a piece, and Carson ranked fifth, garnering 7 percent of Republican voter support.
Ellis said Carson’s talents extend beyond his surgical prowess, and commented on Carson’s skills as a public speaker.
“He’s delightful to talk with because he’s always saying things that are genuine, engaging and interesting to hear,” Ellis said. “His conceptual skills are of a very high order. When you’re talking with him, you know he’s working on a different scale of thinking than almost anyone else you’ve ever spoken with.”
Carson told The Sun that he will make his final decision about whether to run by May.