IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ben Carson keeps his distance as other VP contenders audition for Trump

Carson's absence from the campaign trail and Trump's hush money trial have been notable, but a source close to the former president says Carson has emerged as a strong option.
politics political politician cpac ben carson
Ben Carson hasn't been seen with Trump nearly as much as many other potential VP candidates.Kent Nishimura / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Ben Carson hasn’t turned up onstage for any recent Donald Trump fundraisers or rallies.

He hasn’t shown his face at the former president’s criminal trial in New York, either.

But Carson, who was the Trump administration’s secretary of housing and urban development, remains in contention to be his running mate, even as others throw themselves more forcefully into public auditions for the vice presidency. 

In recent days, prospects like North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. JD Vance of Ohio have demonstrated their loyalty to Trump by campaigning alongside him and joining him in court. Carson, by contrast, began his own publicity tour to promote a new book

Carson’s absence from the Trump spectacle has been notable — he was the only major VP candidate who didn’t attend this month’s closed-door Republican donor retreat in Florida. 

“Ben Carson continues to be in the mix, but it is unclear why,” said Matthew Bartlett, a GOP strategist and former Trump State Department appointee. “His name gets mentioned, but he does not appear to be partaking in the audition process. Maybe even he doesn’t believe he is on the list.”

But while others are flashier and appear hungrier for the job, they are less established and come with a raft of potential liabilities. That makes Carson — a loyal former Cabinet member — a strong contender, a source close to Trump’s campaign said.

“The rise of understated and quiet is the key story here,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about private conversations. “What may have been a negative — to be understated and quiet — is actually now rising as the top criteria.” 

Trump’s selection process has been closely held; he has said he could wait until the weeks before July’s Republican National Convention to make his decision. 

Advisers to Carson didn’t respond to requests for comment. Others close to him said that if Trump formally offers him the position, Carson would most likely lean on his deep spirituality in deciding whether to accept.

“If Dr. Carson believes this is something the Lord wants him to do, he will do it,” said Deana Bass Williams, Carson’s deputy chief of staff at HUD and the press secretary on his 2016 presidential campaign.

Carson, 72, was a noted pediatric neurosurgeon before he sought the GOP presidential nomination eight years ago. Trump attacked him during that campaign, at one point drawing a comparison between his alleged “pathological temper” and “child molesting.” The former rivals eventually became close, with Carson serving in the Cabinet for Trump’s entire term.

In “The Perilous Fight,” his recently published book, Carson writes about speaking with Trump after their final GOP debate during the 2016 campaign: “‘You’re going to be the next president,’ I told him.” 

Trump, he recalled, “looked surprised to hear that from one of his rivals” and asked why he believed that.

“‘Because God’s not finished with this country yet,’ I answered. ‘And He has work for you to do.’ A big part of that work, I believed then and still believe now, was to shore up and support American families,” Carson writes.

Unlike some of Trump’s other options for a running mate, Carson doesn’t need to go out of his way to demonstrate his loyalty, the source close to the campaign said.

“If you haven’t proved yourself in the bunker of the first administration, then you need to show up in court,” the source said. “If you haven’t taken a hit from The Washington Post or in The New York Times, then we think you might just not be able to withstand it.” 

Dennis Lennox, a GOP consultant, said that Carson “was a reliable surrogate” for Trump in this year’s caucuses and primaries and that he checks other boxes for a former president who might want to pick someone he “perceives as loyal and someone he perceives will be gracious” to him.

“Importantly, he’s not a 2028 contender, which is a significant consideration,” Lennox added. “Trump can’t afford to pick someone who starts running for president the day he takes office.”

Others are skeptical that Carson is a worthy running mate.

“He caught fire with some of the base in 2015 when running for president, but that was almost a decade ago,” said Bartlett, who sees the running mate speculation as a “nice gesture to a nice man who has no chance.” 

“You would be hard-pressed,” Bartlett added, “to find an undecided voter who would be swayed by a Carson VP pick, and without ever holding any level of elected office, there would be plenty of questions as to whether he would be prepared to take over as president if needed.”

Carson’s new book could present another obstacle.

While Trump has said he believes abortion policy should be left to the states, Carson writes of his preference for a national ban.

“Many states have made abortion illegal because of the Dobbs decision, yet the practice continues in many more states,” Carson writes, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and federal abortion protections. “What is needed is legislation that guarantees the right to life for all American citizens, including those still in the womb. Therefore, we must be boldly vocal about saving our fellow human beings through the legislative process.”

The book reaffirmed Carson’s long-held hard-line positions on abortion. In 2015, he likened women who terminate pregnancies to “slave owners” on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” Carson also said during his 2016 campaign that while he was open to allowing women to terminate pregnancies to save their lives, he didn’t believe in exceptions for rape and incest.

Trump sees the abortion issue as a vulnerability for Republicans, and he has been sounding out supporters about the conservative views held by some of his potential picks, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, NBC News reported in March. Trump has a long history of taking different positions on abortion, but in this campaign, he has said that he believes it’s a states’ rights issue and that he wouldn’t sign a federal abortion ban.

Democratic groups have signaled plans to make abortion a top issue in the general election.

“Trump is running somewhere between functionally pro-choice and agnostic on the abortion question,” Lennox said. “That does create a problem, as many contenders have taken a vastly different position.”

The source close to Trump’s campaign downplayed the role abortion will play in choosing a running mate.

“The president does not have a litmus test on any issue,” the source said. “He actually values people who push back and have other opinions, as long as at the end of the day they recognize the policy is the president’s and they have to then advocate for the president’s policy.”