At CPAC, not doing brain surgery. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images
At CPAC, not doing brain surgery. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Ben Carson tells Fred Barnes that he is, as Barnes puts it, “warming to the idea of running for president.” Everywhere he goes, he says, people are encouraging him to run: “And so many people tell me that, and so I think I’m starting to hear something.”

Dr. Carson is an impressive man, and it would be terrific to have a presidential candidate who could say “this isn’t brain surgery” and unquestionably know what he was talking about. He may, however, be making a mistake a lot of aspiring politicians do: overestimating how many supporters he has.

Over the years I have met many no-chance presidential candidates who say similar things: People are always urging them to run. One of those candidates said he had taken a trip to a small town in Alaska and been greeted at the port by people with signs telling him to run. I don’t think these stories are made up.

But it is a very big country, and the people who come up to these politicians are a tiny self-selected sample. Ten people could tell him to run every day for the next year, and they would add up to 0.003 percent of the country’s voters. But even if the rational brain of a man being so flattered can grasp the point, the emotional brain might not.

The doctor might want to try his luck anyway, and find out how well he could do. But he shouldn’t confuse what he is experiencing for evidence that he can win a presidential nomination. The plural of anecdote is not victory.

To contact the writer of this article: Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net.