By Molly K. Hooper
The White House repeatedly asked Ben Carson for his speech before the rising Republican star criticized President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month.
Carson, a prominent neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, declined to do so, noting that he doesn’t put his speeches down on paper beforehand.
“I told them that I don’t have an advance copy because I don’t write out my speeches and I don’t use teleprompters …they asked more than once … I gave them the [Biblical] texts around which the remarks would be framed … I said read those texts, the remarks will be framed around those … that should have told them something,” Carson said in an interview with The Hill this week.
His speech attracted a lot of media attention, most notably a “Ben Carson for president” piece from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. It also landed him on two recent Sunday political shows.
Many on the right championed the address, which appeared to make Obama uncomfortable and has been viewed on YouTube nearly 2.8 million times.
Liberals, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), criticized Carson for delivering a “political speech” during a religious event.
But the White House, which did not comment for this article, has not criticized Carson.
After Carson finished his remarks at the prayer breakfast, the usually loquacious Vice President Biden sat next to the physician but had little to say from that point on, Carson pointed out.
Carson, 61, chuckled as he recalled the lack of chitchat: “Later on, [Biden] said, ‘Nice being with you.’ ”
And Carson said the president approached him after to say “he appreciated me being there and he admired me and shook my hand.”
Carson, who is black, has emerged on the national stage as the GOP is attempting to improve its outreach to minorities. But most of that effort has focused on Hispanics, black Republicans say, adding that the party needs to do more to court the African-American vote.
Carson, a registered independent whose views are conservative, believes the “spirituality of the country is sick right now,” and he didn’t want to waste the opportunity with a “vanilla” speech.
Instead, he challenged the president on taxes and healthcare to articulate points that he feels the GOP has had difficulty articulating.
“The fact that we are allowing our thought processes and speech to be handcuffed by political correctness, destroying the dialogue that leads to solutions — that’s crazy,” Carson explained.
He says the Republican Party needs to quit paying lip service to minority communities and start forming a plan to win them over.
Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, but he won’t be on the ballot again. Republicans say their goal is not to win the African-American vote, just to cut into the Democrats’ massive advantage.
Carson concedes “it’s a tough road,” because Republicans must compete with “poisoned candy” of promised government handouts. Still, he said, the GOP should “try to gradually educate people as to the long-term effects of not developing their potential and where that leads.”
That sentiment was echoed by a fellow conservative African-American leader dipping his toe in the political realm, the Rev. A.R. Bernard, a Brooklyn-based pastor.
Bernard says that GOP values mirror those of the 35,000 congregants who attend his popular church: “safe family, education and economic empowerment.”
The possible New York City mayoral contender told The Hill that Republicans should incorporate those values into “initiatives that don’t blame the poor for being poor but do something about their poverty. … People have potential inside of them and [Republicans] need to start speaking to that potential, cultivating that potential and empowering them.”
Armstrong Williams, an African-American commentator who contributes to The Hill’s Pundits Blog, said the party is capable of making changes.
“The Republican Party has to make sure that on the grassroots level, they must find conservatives,” Williams said. “There are many conservatives, there are many blacks out there today that are so disgruntled with President Obama … the only way the Republicans are going to make this work is if they seize people like Pastor Bernard, like Dr. Carson who have cross-over appeal in the black community.
“Their communities trust them. They are not in the pocket of the Republican Party. They just happen to be independent and conservative because they know that’s in the best interest of our country,” he said.
Even more than that, Republicans must be willing to go into minority communities and hold town-hall meetings, said former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
“You’ve got to show up and get some eggs thrown in your face because black folks are pissed at Republicans because they should be … when you ignore people and you do things that they perceive to be racist or insensitive, that just reinforces the frustration with the party,” Steele said.
The party has outreach events scheduled for this week. On Wednesday, former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.), a prominent African-American Republican, is set to unveil a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group created specifically to help the GOP reach out to minorities.
On Friday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will headline a lunch honoring “black Republican trailblazers.”