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Ben Carson and the presidential campaign marketing machine

Dr. Ben Carson greeted a supporter after signing a copy of his book, “A More Perfect Union,” in Iowa in October. REUTERS/file 2015

For all the talk about how Donald Trump has disrupted the Republican Party establishment, there is one thing Trump did not -- and perhaps could not -- change: Outside candidates using the campaign system for personal gain.

For decades, candidates have run in either party who aren’t really running for president. They may run to sell books, or to increase speaking fees. For them, a presidential campaign is the greatest marketing experience in the country, and it is simply a good business decision to participate.

Which brings us to Dr. Ben Carson. The retired neurosurgeon always contended that he never really wanted to be president, but he said he was running because enough people who read his books and saw a speech he delivered believed he should run.


Carson had never been elected to office. He did not seem to enjoy delving into policy or politics in general. He was not promoting a single issue or platform -- other than the country needed to “heal” itself. He did not participate in much fund-raising and left much of the real work of campaigning to his Super PAC. He did not come close to winning any of the 15 states that have voted so far.

His closest adviser throughout his campaign was his business manager. During the height of his campaign in October, when he led a few polls in Iowa, he went on a two-week book tour. His wife put out her own book in early January.

On Wednesday, Carson essentially ended his presidential campaign by issuing a statement that he would not participate in the Fox News debate Thursday night and that he didn’t see a path forward to the nomination.

But he was able to find a way to become a nationally known name by using the marketing machine of the campaign and free press coverage.


It is something that Trump has taken advantage of as well -- but with a different intent and a much different result.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign at www.boston globe.com/groundgame