Ben Carson announces he is ‘leaving the campaign trail’

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The socially conservative doctor whose inspirational biography and deeply held faith galvanized the red blood of America this past fall officially announced that he is leaving the campaign trail Friday.

With characteristic earnestness, Ben Carson assured the crowd at the American Conservative Union’s 2016 Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would keep fighting on behalf of “we the people” — albeit not as a contender for commander in chief.

“I’m hopeful that some people, now that I am leaving the campaign trail …” Carson said before pausing. The crowd was audibly upset before rising to its feet with thunderous applause for the job he’s done so far.

Carson continued, “Even though I might be leaving the campaign trail — you know, there’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me, but it’s OK, it’s not a problem — I will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation.”

Carson’s formal announcement at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center that he was turning the page on this chapter of his political career did not come as a surprise.

Ben Carson declares the end of his campaign at the CPAC conference in Maryland on Friday. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

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After disappointing Super Tuesday results, the doctor-turned-politician released a statement saying that he would not participate in Thursday night’s GOP debate in his hometown of Detroit and said he no longer saw a political “path forward.”

Earlier on Friday, Carson announced that he had taken the post of national chairman for My Faith Votes, an organization focused on mobilizing Christian voters.

“Nothing is more important to me than my personal faith, and it is my faith that motivated me to be involved in the political process to begin with,” Carson said in a video statement posted to the group’s website Friday.

“I believe Christians in this country can easily determine the next president of the United States and all other national and local leaders, should they simply show up at the polls,” he said.

A cardboard cutout of Ben Carson is displayed at the 43rd annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. (Photo: Pete Marovich/Corbis)

Early on in the race, Carson’s mild manner and quiet disposition distinguished him from the overcrowded GOP stage. The Republican primaries have been defined (or marred, depending on your perspective) by bombastic personalities, radical ideas and grade school-level insults. He’d have his share of head-shaking quotes, but that came later.

Increasingly frustrated with establishment politics, the Republican electorate embraced political outsiders such as Carson, real estate magnate Donald Trump and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.

With this surge came increased scrutiny of Carson’s dramatic life story. The media questioned his oft-told tales about winning a scholarship to West Point and trying to stab a childhood friend. Had he exaggerated or been taken out of context? 

It also became clear that Carson held some controversial beliefs: among these, that Egyptians built the pyramids to store grain, Satan encourages the lie of evolution, homosexuality is a choice (or a side effect of going to prison) and Obamacare is the worst thing to happen in the U.S. since slavery.

Ben Carson greets supporters during a visit to a campaign office in Manchester, N.H. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)

When asked in an interview Thursday with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric whether, in retrospect, he would not have said those things, Carson responded, “I would have said them differently.” 

Concern over his biography and beliefs dissipated as his poll numbers declined, and he struggled to capture the attention his more publicity-hungry rivals received, as they bloviated from their debate podiums.

Trump, a bona fide showman and ratings titan, knew better than anyone else in the race how to drum up free publicity. He spent far less than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an establishment favorite, but a cavalcade of reporters followed his every utterance. Political newcomers Fiorina and Carson were less adept at media manipulation, and their stars waned as the contest dragged on.

Carson harshly criticized the primaries’ focus on clashing personalities at the expense of policy proposals and ideals. As parting advice, he encouraged voters to examine each candidate’s values to determine who best aligns with their own.

According to Carson, Republican infighting only serves to fracture the party and all but guarantees a Democratic victory in the general election. Now he wants all conservatives to put aside their differences and support the GOP’s eventual nominee — putting his faith once again in “we the people” to make the right decision.  

Carson has not yet officially endorsed a GOP candidate, but he told Couric Thursday that he would “support whoever the people have chosen.

“Somehow we must abandon the thinking that there are a bunch of politically elite people who know what’s best,” he said.

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(Cover tile photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)