GOP Diversity Takes the Stage

For now at least, in these early days of the 2016 Republican Party race for the White House, faith-based voters find their “cup runneth  over” with candidates.  Huckabee’s campaign will court the social conservatives who delivered his upset victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and powered his showings in other states.  But Huckabee must face off this time against others with credible credentials in this realm.  They include Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ted Cruz, both sons of Christian ministers, former Senator Rick Santorum, who won many of Huckabee’s former supporters during his 2012 run, and pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.  


By Andrew Thomas l May 11, 2015

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The election calendar and a teeming field have prompted GOP presidential candidates to announce their intentions in almost crowd-like fashion.  Last week no fewer than three major Republican candidates did so in less than 48 hours.  While sharing the spotlight with each other was not particularly helpful to their candidacies, their overlapping declarations showcased something important:  a new diversity for the GOP.

None made this point more strikingly than the charismatic Ben Carson.  Born in inner-city Detroit, Carson offers a life story so compelling it inspired a made-for-TV movie.  When Carson’s single mother was not working multiple jobs to support the family, she limited his TV time and forbade him to play until he finished his homework.  She also required Carson to read two library books a week and give her written reports (these she largely pretended to read for his benefit, as she had dropped out of school in third grade).  Carson gained degrees from Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School before taking up residency at Johns Hopkins University, where he specialized in neurosurgery.  International renown followed for his pioneering procedures for successfully separating twins conjoined at the head.

A spiritual man who, in his youth, prayed that God would help him control his fierce temper, Carson was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, 2013.  There, a conservative star was born.  Carson inveighed against President Barack Obama over ObamaCare and taxes.  The following month he retired from his work as a surgeon; by year’s end Carson was named a commentator for the Fox News Channel.  In 2014, a Gallup poll found Carson the sixth most admired man in the world.

On May 4, Carson built on this life of extraordinary achievement by returning to Detroit to announce his candidacy for president.  Backed by a soundtrack featuring alternately a gospel choir and rap song by Detroit’s Eminem, Carson stood with his wife and children before a large audience of supporters.  He emphasized conservative themes, contrasting himself with Obama.  His outsider agenda emphasized the need to end government programs that “create dependency.”  The successful event was tinged with sadness as it was learned Carson’s mother could not attend due to grave illness.  Afterwards, Carson delayed his scheduled trip to Iowa to visit her in Dallas.

Sharing the day with Carson was Carly Fiorina, who announced her candidacy almost simultaneously but with less fanfare.  Born Cara Carleton Sneed, Fiorina was the daughter of a law professor.  She followed for a time in his professional footsteps before dropping out of law school; several odd jobs followed, including stints as a receptionist, English teacher in Italy, and, most importantly, sales representative for AT&T.  The last stop grew into a career.  Fiorina rose in the company as she showed her talent for growing its network-communications sector.

In 1996, when AT&T spun off part of the company into what became Lucent, Fiorina was tapped to lead the effort.  Her success there led Hewlett-Packard to hire her in 1999 as chief executive officer, making Fiorina the first woman to head a Fortune 100 company.  Her tenure as CEO was rocky, and she resigned in 2005 in lieu of implementing changes asked by the company’s board of directors.  She then entered politics, becoming in quick order a Fox News commentator, adviser to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in her home state of California (she lost to Barbara Boxer in 2010).

Eschewing an elaborate – and logistically challenging – announcement before legions of supporters, Fiorina declared her run simply during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”  Fiorina said Hillary Clinton was “not trustworthy” given her evasive handling of the Benghazi and email scandals.  Fiorina’s campaign also released a film which featured her viewing Clinton’s announcement video, then turning to the camera and seeking support from voters “tired of the sound bites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, the corruption.”  Fiorina also called for an “end of identity politics.”  This was somewhat ironic given that her candidacy is based largely on Fiorina being the only GOP female candidate – and, accordingly, the best able to counter Clinton’s electoral appeals based on gender.

The following day, May 5, found Mike Huckabee completing the 48-hour hat trick of Republican announcements.  For the event Huckabee returned to Hope, Arkansas, a hometown he shares with Bill Clinton.  Born there in 1955, Huckabee was the first male member of his family to graduate from high school.  After earning his college degree, he went to work for evangelist James Robison before becoming a Baptist pastor in Arkansas.  Eventually Huckabee was elected head of the Baptist State Convention, with almost half a million members.  Huckabee ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992, losing to Democratic incumbent Dale Bumpers the year in which Bill Clinton was elected president.  The following year Huckabee returned to win a special election as Arkansas lieutenant governor.  Three years later, when Governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy related to the Clinton Whitewater scandal, Huckabee was sworn in as governor.

After being elected outright to two terms as governor in 1998 and 2002, Huckabee ran a strong race for president in 2008, winning the Iowa caucuses.  He eventually lost the nomination to Senator John McCain as fellow Senator Fred Thompson siphoned off conservative votes in southern primaries from Huckabee, allowing McCain to amass an insurmountable number of delegates.  Huckabee’s consolation prizes were considerable:  He gained his own show on the Fox News Channel and ABC radio, both powerful platforms.

Huckabee returned to Hope to kick off his second presidential run before throngs of boisterous supporters.  Appearing with him were his wife, Janet, and family, including his daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is also his campaign manager.  Huckabee delivered a fiery speech that blasted the Obama administration on everything from economic stagnation to social decline.  He condemned the administration for the loss of 93 million jobs and chronic erosion of benefits and job security.  “We’ve lost our way, morally,” Huckabee added against the backdrop of a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

His campaign will court the social conservatives who delivered his upset victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses and powered his showings in other states.  But Huckabee must face off this time against others with credible credentials in this realm.  They include Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ted Cruz, both sons of Christian ministers, former Senator Rick Santorum, who won many of Huckabee’s former supporters during his 2012 run, and Carson.  For now at least, in these early days of the 2016 GOP race, these faith-based voters find their “cup runneth over” with candidates.


Andrew Thomas is a graduate of the University of Missouri and Harvard Law School. Twice elected as Maricopa County Attorney, the district attorney for metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona, Thomas served a county of four million residents and ran one of the largest prosecutor’s offices in the nation. He established a national reputation for fighting violent crime, identity theft, drug abuse and illegal immigration. He is the author of four books, including Clarence Thomas: A Biography and the The People v. Harvard Law: How America’s Oldest Law School Turned Its Back on Free Speech. Mr. Thomas ran for governor of Arizona in 2014, receiving endorsements from many conservative leaders. He is a fellow with the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.