Ben Carson doesn’t “see a political path forward” in the Republican presidential nomination process, and will not attend Thursday’s GOP presidential debate in his hometown of Detroit, he said in a statement.
The retired neurosurgeon and his aides reached the decision after a staff meeting Wednesday morning in Baltimore after a disappointing finish on Super Tuesday.
Carson said he’s not planning on formally suspending his presidential campaign and will go into more detail during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference near Washington on Friday.
But it appears to end what once seemed like a promising campaign for the first-time political candidate. He was the first GOP candidate to overtake Donald Trump in the polls for a period of several weeks around October 2015. But as fall turned to winter, Carson consistently lost ground to Trump and later Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Republican operatives, looking to move Carson out of the race as they try to remove obstacles to finding a challenger to Donald Trump, were planning Wednesday to suggest he drop out and instead run for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida. He also suggested the five remaining candidates meet before the Detroit debate to try and work out their differences.
Carson never made a cogent argument for his candidacy, running mostly on his biography rather than policy and political views. Carson undisputedly had an impressive personal story to tell. He overcame a troubled youth in inner-city Detroit, becoming a star student and eventually a world-class neurosurgeon. He won international acclaim in the late 980s after successfully separating conjoined twins.
In June 2008, President George W. Bush awarded Carson the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. “For a time, young Ben Carson was headed down that same path,” Bush said at the time. “Yet through his reliance on faith and family, he turned his life into a sharply different direction.”
But Carson’s origin story took a hit after a CNN report raised questions about claims he made about violent episodes as a youth. Trump, rising in the polls, took to mocking Carson, particularly over a story from the surgeon’s memoir about Carson attempting to stab a friend — the knife broke in a half after hitting a large belt buckle.
Carson’s debate performances didn’t help, either. He often seemed halting in his speech patterns in a forum that prizes quick and snappy soundbites. And his command of policy appeared shaky — he asserted that the Chinese were in Syria, a claim the White House disputed. He repeatedly deflected questions on how to confront ISIS, among other foreign policy challenges. Even on health care, Carson’s seeming specialty, he didn’t have many specifics to offer beyond saying that Obamacare should be abolished.
Carson’s campaign also suffered internal conflicts, with competing power centers often at odds. In the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, a contest that was crucial to his chances because of his connections with evangelicals, the tensions came to a head, with his top advisers leaving the campaign. Adding to the turmoil, Carson’s former advisers were unusually public in their criticism of Carson as a candidate and of his campaign structure.
When voting actually began, with the February 1 Iowa caucuses, Carson wasn’t much of a factor except as a spoiler. He finished fourth at 9.3%. His New Hampshire primary showing was even worse. Carson finished eighth, with only 2.3% of the vote — ahead only of candidates who had dropped out of the race but whose names remained on the ballot. Then in the February 20 South Carolina primary, Carson finished sixth, with less than 8% of the vote.