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Ben Carson Drops Out of Race, Announces His Next Steps

6 minute read

Ben Carson’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday was a call to arms for faith voters, but also a concession that he can no longer be their candidate.

“You know, there’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” Carson quipped when he told the audience he would be “leaving the campaign trail.”

Carson has still not officially said they he is suspending his campaign, but the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he announced his next step: to get involved with My Faith Votes, an organization focused on getting Christian voters to the polls. According to Politico, Carson will serve as national chairman of the organization.

Carson previewed the end of his unlikely and unusual campaign on Wednesday when he announced that he would be skipping the Republican debate in his hometown of Detroit the following night, and that he saw no “political path forward” in the race. Carson did not win a single state, and gathered only 8 delegates out of the more than 600 that have been awarded so far.

But here’s the thing about Ben Carson: he never wanted to be President anyway. The former neurosurgeon with the inspirational life story was pushed into the race after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 and criticized the Affordable Care Act while standing feet away from President Obama.

See Ben Carson's Life in Photos

An early childhood photograph of Ben Carson.Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson's graduation from Southwestern High School, Detroit circa 1969.Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson with his mother, Sonya, and his future wife, Candy after his graduation from Yale University, circa 1973. Courtesy of Ben Carson Campaign
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Donlin Long, director of neurosurgery, left, and Dr. Ben Carson director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital, with brain model of the Siamese twins separated in a 22-hour surgery at Hopkins, Sept. 7, 1987, in Baltimore.Fred Kraft—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Ben Carson shares his personal story with middle school students on March 17, 2000 in Roswell, N.M.Aaron J. Walker—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr Dennis Rohner, Dr Beat Hammer, Dr Ivan Ng, Dr Ben Carson, Prof. Walter Tan, and Dr Keith Goh rehearse an operation to separate conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani from Iran at Raffles Hospital on July 5, 2003 in Singapore.Reuters
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Dr. Keith Goh (left) adjusts the frame on conjoined twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani as Dr. Ben Carson observes the start of neurosurgery proceedings at the Raffles Hospital on July 6, 2003 in Singapore. Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ten-year-old Indian twins Sabah and Farah sit beside Ben Carson (C), Managing Director, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, Anne Marie Moncure, their father Shakeel (L), their brother (R) and senior child specialist of Apollo Hospital, Dr. Anupan Sibal, on Oct. 4, 2005 in New Delhi.Raveendran—AFP/Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
George W. Bush presents a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ben Carson for his work with neurological disorders on June 19, 2008 at the White House in Washington.Alex Wong—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson officially announces his candidacy for President of the United States on May 4, 2015 in Detroit.Bill Pugliano—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson poses for a photo during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner on May 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa.Charlie Neibergall—AP
PresidBen Carson - Life in Picturesential Hopefuls Attend Southern Republican Leadership Conference
Ben Carson speaks during the Energizing America Gala at the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference May 22, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Okla.Alex Wong—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson at a political fund-raiser for GOP candidates on June 6, 2015, in Boone, Iowa. Jabin Bostford—The Washington Post/Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. Andrew Harnik—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson prays during church services at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines , Iowa. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson rides the Sky Glider with a reporter while touring the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson and his wife Candy on Aug. 18, 2015 in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson is greeted by supporters at a rally on Aug. 27, 2015 in Little Rock, Ark.Danny Johnston—AP
Ben Carson - Life in Pictures
Ben Carson at a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church on Aug. 16, 2015 in Des Moines.Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“Lord you know I don’t want to do this, but if you open the doors I’ll do it,” Carson told TIME of his prayers about whether to become a candidate.

At first, Carson’s candidacy seemed charmed. The mild-mannered doctor briefly captured the national spotlight and even rose to the top of the polls in the fall. But then his campaign began to fall apart.

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Chris Christie participated in the second Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 16, 2015.
Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Chris Christie participated in the second Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 16, 2015.Mark Peterson—Redux

In November, more than 130 people were killed in a terrorist attack on Paris. Weeks later, 14 people were killed in an attack on San Bernardino, California. As the national conversation switched rapidly to a focus on national security, Carson struggled to keep up.

He bungled words, calling the terrorist group Hamas something that sounded more like “hummus.” The New York Times ran a story quoting a Carson adviser as saying, “Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.” The Carson camp disputed the story, but it had already played into the narrative that Carson was out of his depth on foreign policy.

At the same time, the Carson campaign itself was in turmoil. In December, communications director Doug Watts and campaign manager Barry Bennett both resigned, bitter about the outsize influence that a divisive adviser named Armstrong Williams was having on Carson. (“I think they need some psychologists to figure that out,” Bennett told TIME of Carson’s relationship with Williams.)

There were also issues of finances. Carson’s campaign had always been remarkably successful at raking in small dollar donations, but concerns arose in late December about how that money was being managed, with most of it being put back into more fundraising. The Washington Post reported at the time that critics were calling Carson’s campaign a “rat hole” for those small donations.

All of this conspired to a disappointing finish for Carson when the first votes were cast. He came in fourth in Iowa with 9.3% of the vote; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who came in third, was far ahead of Carson with 23.1%. Carson nabbed three delegates in Iowa, and those would be the only three he would pick up from any state.

Retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland in 2015.
Retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland in 2015.Mark Peterson—Redux

Now the question is who Carson’s voters will break for. Carson was consistently polling around 7% in national polls, so if his supporters move as a bloc, it could be a boon for another candidate. Each of the three top contenders holds a certain element of Carson’s candidacy that could appeal to his supporters: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is strongly anchored in his faith, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has a nice-guy demeanor and businessman Donald Trump is another outsider to the political system.

According to an analysis done by TIME Labs, Carson’s Twitter followers are most likely to also follow Trump, then Rubio. And an Elon University poll of second choices also showed most Carson supporters would defect to Trump if Carson dropped out of the race, though the question was asked only of likely North Carolina Republican voters.

Trump himself seemed eager to capitalize on the opportunity, tweeting Thursday morning, “Will miss @RealBenCarson tonight at the #GOPDebate. I hope all of Ben’s followers will join the #TrumpTrain. We will never forget.”

Speaking Thursday to Yahoo’s Katie Couric, Carson said that was a decision his followers would have to make on their own. “I would say please look at the policies of each one of the candidates and see which ones really align well with your thinking,” Carson said, but wouldn’t say which candidate he thinks would be the best choice. “I truly believe in people’s intellect and their ability to assess the situation and make that decision for themselves.”

For now, Carson says through his new capacity with My Faith Votes that he “will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation.”

He told Couric he would also return to the speaking circuit and writing books. And maybe he’ll be able to relax a bit, too. He told TIME that he’s always wanted to learn how to play the organ, and he’s fond of saying on the stump that he was looking forward to retirement so he can catch up on movies. In his speeches, he frequently mentions he’s never seen the classic boxing film “Rocky.” Now he has the time.

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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com