Ben Carson seems like a decent guy – a kind soul, as they say. It is impossible to deny his life achievements and personal story of overcoming obstacles. I don’t think he is remotely qualified to be President, but he is an accomplished man who has done tremendous good for many. Still, he says – and does – some weird stuff. And I’m not even talking about the latest allegations about embellishing various stories about his youth. I get that Dr. Carson has made his personal story the central premise of his campaign, and that makes the scrutiny he is receiving especially understandable, but I’m not sure this stuff matters much in the scheme of things. Rather, if we step beyond questions about the relevance of things he said or did in his youth, we still must confront things he has said recently, and some of those things are . . . odd.
I still do not believe (and never have believed) that Dr. Carson will be the Republican nominee for President. But my larger point in mentioning Dr. Carson is that Republicans now have an even bigger concern than the Presidency – they must now worry about retaining control of the Senate. I had a conversation about this with a colleague recently, and much of that conversation covered ground that is the subject of this piece from Politico today. If Republicans choose the wrong nominee, losing the presidential election is the least of their worries. They could also very well lose control of the Senate, the map for which is pretty favorable to the Democrats in 2016. Consequently, Republicans must assure that their nominee will not only be able to capture the hearts and minds of hardcore Republican primary voters, but also voters who will be enthusiastic about voting for Republicans down the ballot.
Some of this, of course, will not be entirely attributable to the top of the ticket. There are simply some races Republicans will win or lose no matter who is at the top. But in some close races in purple – and even some red – states, the top of the ticket might matter a lot in terms of deciding control of the Senate. It seems to me that Kasich, Christie, Rubio, and Fiorina could do the most good across the ballot; I might add Bush to that list, as well, if he catches fire. As between Carson, Trump, and Cruz, however, I am far less confident. And the funny thing is that Trump probably has broader appeal than the other two; Cruz the least. Trump, by the way, was terrific on SNL this weekend; kind of funny and even self-deprecating (e.g., the music video sketch). But soon he will go back to talking out loud on the campaign trail. And my guess is that he scares many Republican Senate candidates.
Should Republicans care about keeping the Senate? Of course. That is especially true if they win the White House, but also true if Hillary Clinton becomes President. Another President Clinton, I think, would be more likely to govern from the center and work much better with a Republican Senate than her predecessor. And even if Republicans keep the House, that is not enough. Democratic control of the Senate, combined with a President Clinton, spells trouble on nominations, especially judicial nominations (remember the House plays no role on nominations). That alone should be enough to scare Republicans into making control of the Senate a priority next year. And it is yet another factor that militates in favor of prudence when selecting the presidential nominee.
If I ever start to see Republican Senate candidates in close races becoming enthusiastic about having Carson, Trump, or Cruz at the top of the ticket, maybe I’ll change my mind. For now, that seems unlikely.