West Des Moines, Iowa — Only three months ago, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson had a significant lead in the Iowa polls—as much as nine points—and politicos were thinking that, just maybe, the neurosurgeon had the antidote to Trump Fever.
This Saturday night, with less than 48 hours to go until the Iowa caucuses, he’s fallen back. Carson is currently polling behind Trump, Cruz, and Rubio with less than 10 percent support. He’s struggled to articulate his platform into coherent thoughts during the debates, often becoming the butt of the joke on Twitter.
His lackluster debate performances and his polling, however, appear to have little impact on his ability to draw crowds. At a campaign rally in West Des Moines on Saturday night, the line stretched out the door as Iowans flocked to see the famous surgeon speak.
One woman standing in line behind me was still window-shopping her way through the long list of Republican contenders, though she’d narrowed it down to Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, and Carson. She was attracted to Carson’s “godly” and “anti-establishment” message.
After about 10 minutes of waiting in line as people slowly filed through a Secret Service checkpoint, the officers closed the door, declaring that no more people could come in without violating the fire code. The main hall had already been filled, and the overflow room had reached capacity.
Some in the line gave up hope and left. My line neighbor and I, though, stuck around to see what was would happen. Eventually, 20 more people were allowed in (my neighbor and I among them), but we wouldn’t be able to see or hear Carson’s speech. A Carson staffer told us that the doctor would come talk briefly with the group before the main event.
When Carson appeared, the group was awe-struck. He said he was sorry that the group couldn’t see him speak but that he’d give us a “Cliff Notes” version of his speech.
“The reason that I’m in this is because I’m concerned about subsequent generations,” he said. “As you’ve probably heard, this generation is the first generation in the history of America that’s expected to do worse than their parents. And that’s going to be a continuing trend—they say it’s the new normal. There is nothing normal about it. It’s because we’ve been doing stupid stuff.”
He went on to deliver a series of thoughts on how not to address income inequality, the problem with the vast mainstream media conspiracy, and how early American history has been distorted by the “PC police” in a way that ignores how it was the will of God that led America to succeed.
Leading off, he talked about how rich people are just one tax hike away from becoming poor because of socialism.
“You have people coming along saying there’s a big income gap and that we can fix that by taking money from the rich people,” he said. “That’s just a bunch of crap. What would happen then is everybody’s poor and the government continues to spend money like crazy—that’s what socialism is.”
He rather awkwardly transitioned from there into a media critique. “The only people who are going to be able to solve this problem for America is us. We the people, not we the politicians, not we the political class, and definitely not we the media. They are so far off the mark it is absolutely absurd,” Carson said, as heads nodded throughout the small crowd. “But what they have been able to do traditionally is manipulate people and they tell you what you’re supposed to think and who you’re supposed to go for. If we continue to listen to them, believe me, we will continue going off the cliff—no question about it.”
Then he launched into an extended history lesson about how George Washington was chosen by God.
Despite his reputation as a somnolent debater, Carson is an effective speaker off the debate stage. The crowd appeared transfixed through his short, uncommonly intimate speech. And he still is able to draw enthusiastic crowds across Iowa.
At least one person—my line neighbor—had been won over. “I was quite impressed,” she told me. “He ticked off all the boxes for me. He sounds exactly like what we need.”