Is Ben Carson really running for president?

Some people are convinced that Donald Trump isn’t really running for president, he’s just running a fund-raising and brand-building venture. But he may not be the only one — Ben Carson may be doing the exact same thing.

Carson is doing a lot of things that seem puzzling for a presidential campaign, but quite logical for a brand-building exercise. He is taking weeks off the campaign trail to go on a book tour. His campaign itself is structured much more like a scamming venture than a political one. An astronomical 69 percent of his fund-raising totals are spent on more fund-raising. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, spends just 4 percent of his intake on fund-raising.) In addition to direct mail, Carson seems to have undertaken a massive phone-spamming operation . Spending most of your money to raise more money is not a good way to get elected president, but it is a good way to build a massive list of supporters that can later be monetized. Perhaps it is a giveaway that the official title for Armstrong Williams , the figure running the Carson “campaign,” is “business manager,” as opposed to “campaign manager.” It does suggests that Carson is engaged in a for-profit venture.

Carson’s combination of flamboyantly reactionary statements and subdued (to the point of appearing medicated) persona lend him an aura of trust and honesty. Carson’s supporters see him as a brave truth-teller; his critics think he’s genuinely nuts. Even those concerned with his methods grant him the presumption of innocence — right-wing commentator Erick Erickson , running down Carson’s astronomical fund-raising costs, frets, “ I suspect there are some who see Carson as a cash cow. ” But it is a fallacy to imagine that a kook cannot also be a scammer. There is a long tradition of cult leaders, televangelists, and other snake-oil salesmen who were both.

Carson’s relationship with Mannatech , a medical-supplement operator that uses misleading claims to exploit Christian customers, may provide the most revealing window into his methodology. Consider the utterly calm and putatively genuine way in which Carson flatly denied a question at the last debate about his business relationship with Mannatech:

If you have the facts in mind — Carson  maintained an extensive relationship with the company — when you watch this answer, his unflinching dishonesty has a chilling quality. He is a perfect con artist. And his history with Mannatech seems to serve as a precursor to his current enterprise. Carson used his inspiring story to pitch credulous (overwhelmingly Christian) customers. Carson has simply moved on to a bigger stage and cut out the middleman. The old scam was using the Ben Carson brand to pitch Mannatech. The new scam is pitching Ben Carson.

Read more: Is Ben Carson Running for President?