MILWAUKEE—Ben Carson came out to address the media after Tuesday night’s debate, emerging in the spin room with his typical air of beatific nonchalance. He was immediately engulfed by dozens of microphones and cameras; a reporter for the Daily Mail began shouting questions about new factual discrepancies in his autobiography. “Did you attack your mother with a hammer, or did she attack you?” the reporter shouted. “Are you running away from this question?” Carson simply ignored him and kept walking.
Off to the side of the surging mass of media, Carson’s campaign manager, a heavyset career operative named Barry Bennett, was exuberant. Had Carson won the debate? “I only care about the bank account, and we did well with that,” he said. The former neurosurgeon’s campaign had already taken in $6 million since the beginning of the month, $1 million the day of the debate alone.
The media are starting to call Carson the new frontrunner. He had a one-point lead over Donald Trump in the latest national poll. The past week saw him pass his first major test with surprising deftness, making a plausible defense against accusations he stretched the truth in his bestselling memoir and turning the episode into a crowd-pleasing attack on the liberal media. (Politico ran a story claiming Carson “fabricated” a scholarship offer from West Point, but the memoir acknowledges that he didn’t apply to the school, and “scholarship” is the school’s common term for its tuition-free offers of admission.) Carson is less deft when it comes to policy, but policy is not at the core of his appeal—rather, it is his status as an inspirational figure.