Pretending to run for president can be a lucrative business. Just ask Donald Trump, who’s milked every dime and dollop of attention from his perpetual flirtation with politics. So too can running a no-shot campaign. Just ask Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich, whose book sales skyrocketed from the attendant publicity.
Sometimes the spoils of fake campaigns accrue to people other than the supposed candidate. For many months now, a political-action committee has been raising money to cnovince retired doctor Ben Carson to run for president. Carson, who shot to stardom on the right with a rebuke to President Obama at the 2013 national prayer breakfast, has become a sizzling commodity in conservative circles, racking up straw poll victories and placing high in surveys of a hypothetical 2016 field. The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee has capitalized, raising a staggering $11 million this cycle in a bid to coax Carson to run. That’s more than the Ready for Hillary folks, even though Clinton seems nearly certain to run and Carson has told media, including TIME, that he has little interest.
He may have changed his mind. This weekend, an hour-long documentary on Carson will air in 22 states, plus Washington, D.C., including media markets in Oregon and upstate New York where Presidential politics rarely travels. Carson’s business manager is footing the bill for the program, entitled “Ben Carson: A Breath of Fresh Air.” The lengthy, expensive advertisement for Carson’s campaign-in-waiting convinced Fox News to cut ties with Carson, as it did in 2012 with Gingrich and Rick Santorum when those men took serious steps toward launching presidential bids. “2016 is upon us, and Ben Carson is first out of the gate,” declared the Democratic research firm American Bridge.
While the documentary seems to indicate that Carson is seriously mulling a campaign, it is not likely to convince rival political operations to take the doctor seriously.
There is no doubt that Carson is hugely popular on the right; in a recent poll of Iowa Republicans, he placed second to Mitt Romney in a ranking of prospective presidential candidates. And his backers have shrewdly tapped into the direct-mail fundraising machine that long been a powerful force on the right. But smart campaigns don’t blow huge sums on running over-long advertisements at odd times in states that don’t matter. It’s an unusual stunt for an unusual figure, who still may not be a candidate at all.