Carson: It’s going to be hard to ignore me

Carson: It’s going to be hard to ignore me

Ben Carson has a message for the political class: He’s embracing the role of underdog and dismissing those who say he doesn’t have staying power to be the Republican presidential nominee.

“Everything they’ve predicted from the very beginning has turned out to be false, and that will continue to be the case,” Carson said in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with The Hill. “They have no concept whatsoever about me or my campaign. They want to fit us in a neat little box, and we just won’t fit there.”

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Carson, who has never before run for office, is surging in the polls, sprinting past better-funded candidates with far deeper political ties and gaining on GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNewsweek settles with Sputnik writer Trump: Why aren't 'beleaguered AG,' investigators looking at Hillary Clinton? Kushner says meeting with Russian lawyer a 'waste of our time' MORE.

With almost no institutional support among Republicans or billionaires giving to his supporting super-PACs, Carson’s campaign is being kept afloat almost exclusively by small-dollar donations that have been pouring in since the first Republican debate on Aug 6.

His rise puts an exclamation point on a summer dominated by political outsiders. Trump has emerged as the runaway leader of the Republican pack, and former businesswoman Carly Fiorina has also seen her standings improve, while veteran politicians, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, have stalled out.

It’s a trend Carson expects will continue.

“I think it’s dawning on people that you don’t have to be a politician to have solutions or good ideas, you just need common sense,” he said. “People are recognizing that. They don’t want to continue down the same path that Republicans and Democrats have taken them. They realize we have to alter our course if we’re going to save the nation.”

Carson and his team say he is on an upward trajectory despite only getting a fraction of the media coverage other candidates enjoy.

According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com, Carson trails every GOP candidate except Rick Santorum and George Pataki in Google News hits, with Trump getting about 60 times more coverage than him.

“Dr. Carson has had stable and consistent support despite being dismissed by the media, so we think he’ll continue to surge as he gets more attention,” Carson’s business partner and adviser Armstrong Williams told The Hill.

At the first Republican debate, Carson went for an extended period of time without fielding a question. When the spotlight finally returned to him, Carson joked that he didn’t think he’d get the opportunity to speak again.

The understated performance did not get much media attention at the time, but post-debate polling revealed many conservatives viewed Carson as one of the night’s winners.

“It’s going to be difficult for them to ignore me this time,” Carson said.

However, he was also overshadowed at the debate by Trump’s defiant stand and the spirited back-and-forth between some of the other candidates.

Carson, who is soft-spoken and exudes extreme calm, said he won’t alter his approach for the second debate on Sept. 16.

“I won’t change,” he said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘You have to have more fire.’ They want me to stomp and bang my fists, but that’s not who I am. I’m a calm and rational person. You have to be that way as a neurosurgeon.”

Mostly, Carson says he looks forward to the next debate because he’s “anxious to dispel the notion” that someone who has never held office before will be weak on policy issues.

One of the anchors at the CNN debate will be conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who has provoked stumbles from several GOP candidates so far this cycle with quiz-style questions and by going deep into the weeds on foreign policy.

“I bet I have some questions for him on foreign policy that he may not know the answer to,” Carson quipped.

Saying that he doesn’t view any of the other Republicans running for president as his rivals, Carson is also vowing not to go negative against them.

It’s a tactic that has pundits labeling him the “anti-Trump.”

“I’m not someone who typically goes around attacking others,” Carson said. “I’d much rather focus on what our problems are and how we can solve them. I don’t consider myself a highly partisan person. I’m pro-American, not pro-Republican or anti-Democrat.”

But with higher polling numbers comes increased scrutiny and attention, and Carson is on the ready to defend himself against outside attacks.

Last week, Trump turned his fire on Carson for the first time, arguing that Carson lacks experience at creating jobs and that it would be “very tough” for a former doctor who has never run a business to be president.

Carson kicked back at that notion in the interview with The Hill, pointing to the decades he spent on corporate boards for Kellogg’s and Costco and as chairman of a national nonprofit group, the Carson Scholars Fund, which awards college scholarships to high school students.

But most of the tension for Carson early in the race has been with the media, which he believes has at times treated him unfairly.

“It’s frustrating but unfortunately it’s expected,” Carson said.

Carson pointed to a recent trip he made to the southern border of Texas that provoked a rash of stories about how he advocates using drones to kill people who illegally come across. Carson told The Hill he was merely arguing for the use of unarmed drones to assist in surveillance at the border and that he went out of his way to explain that to reporters at the time.

However, Carson has at times run into trouble for failing to adequately explain his positions in full.

He said he is staunchly pro-life but has struggled to explain his nuanced positions on abortion, which are informed by medical experience.

And Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley has swiped at Carson for appearing to suggest in an interview that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) be eliminated and “folded in under the Department of Defense.”

Carson clarified that comment in an interview with The Hill, saying he wasn’t advocating for getting rid of the VA entirely but was looking for ways to lessen the burden on the agency and provide more accessible healthcare for veterans.

He said wounded warriors should only have to rely on the VA for “highly specialized” procedures such as brain surgery and limb replacements. For routine healthcare needs, veterans should have access to any doctor, he said.

But Carson appears to be faring better than when he initially entered the race. Early on, Carson had a penchant for generating headlines for controversial remarks about everything from ObamaCare to gay marriage.

Carson believes the resulting media frenzies muddled his message, and says he’s made a concerted effort to be more disciplined on the trail.

“It’s a skill I’m learning all the time,” Carson admitted.