“I’m not a politician,” said (fill in the blank).
Both leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination repeatedly deny being politicians.
Former pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson this week overtook reality television star Donald Trump in national polls to lead the Republican field. Neither has previously held any elective office. Both have led the polls far longer than I-am-not-a-politician Herman Cain in the 2012 race.
A Google search of the phrase, “I’m not a politician,” produces about 335,000 results. It’s a popular claim by previously unelected outsiders hoping voter disgust with politics as usual will carry them to victory. The problem is, claiming not to be a politician has become politics as usual. It sounds better than, “I am a novice politician. I’ve only been in bed with a few special interests so far.”
We should not be surprised that a party dominated by conservative religious and ideological purists favors candidates who claim to be unsullied by politics–political virgins.
Carson’s surgical career and well-publicized faith go a long way toward persuading voters that he is squeaky clean. He must have scrubbed those gifted hands thousands of times. Compare those hands to Trump’s paws, which have touched more filthy lucre than any presidential candidate in history.
That difference may explain why Carson has pulled ahead of Trump, especially in Iowa, whose Republican faithful picked Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. But the broader Republican electorate may prefer someone who can plausibly claim political chastity while being ready Day One to perform the political act with skill and abandon.
The first six months of each presidency is called a honeymoon, after all.
Carson announced he was running for president May 4, 2015. Trump announced he was running June 16, 2015. Through September 30, the Federal Election Commission showed Carson had raised $31 million and spent roughly $20 million. Trumps reported $4 million in contributions and $1.8 million in loans to the campaign from himself, for a total of $5.8 million in receipts and slightly more than $5.5 million in expenditures.
Gentlemen: You are politicians. You cannot maintain claims of political virginity after filing with election boards, raising and spending millions of dollars, and traveling the country for months seeking office by making promises in exchange for votes.
Political life begins at inception.