Dr. Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon who suspended his presidential bid two months ago, will help Donald Trump's ascendant campaign choose a running mate — a move that has Carson supporters hopeful about his political future.
Carson, the former Marylander who developed a following among conservatives and evangelicals, endorsed Trump shortly after dropping out of the race in early March, and at one time was himself considered a potential Trump vice-presidential pick.
A day after Trump posted a win so decisive in the Indiana primary that it forced his two remaining Republican competitors from the race, the New York businessman said he is offering Carson something less than that: a spot on the committee that will vet others for the job.
"I'll set up a committee," Trump told The New York Times in an interview. "I think on the committee I'll have Dr. Ben Carson and some other folks."
Carson, 64, suspended his campaign following a fifth-place finish on Super Tuesday in March and disappointing results in other early states. He initially spoke openly of a willingness to run alongside Trump, but later tamped down talk of seeking a spot on the GOP front-runner's ticket.
At a speech in National Harbor in March, Carson announced that he would serve as the honorary chairman of My Faith Votes, a Colorado-based organization that seeks to turn out Christian voters. Since then, Carson has appeared on cable news as a Trump surrogate.
But whether Carson might have a voice in a potential Trump administration — perhaps in a Cabinet position — or in national politics generally, remains an open question.
"Dr. Carson clearly has a future in politics and has proven his interest in his presidential run," Rep. Andy Harris, the Baltimore County Republican and only member of Congress who endorsed Carson's bid, said in a statement. "His many devoted followers will be very excited about his involvement in the Trump presidential campaign."
Carson spokesman Shermichael Singleton said his boss is focused on the job at hand.
"In this role, Dr. Carson is going to do due diligence and what is in the best interest of the American people," Singleton said. "And that is making sure that whoever the individual is [who is selected] is a person who will work tirelessly for the American people."
Trump, who won the Maryland primary on April 26 with 54 percent of the vote, is now poised to capture the nomination before the party opens its convention in Cleveland this summer — deflating the "never Trump" movement and talk of a contested convention.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas left the race Tuesday after losing to Trump in Indiana. Ohio Gov. John Kasich bowed out Wednesday evening.
The relationship between Trump and Carson was always curious, given the attacks they lobbed at each other during the campaign. Trump often described Carson as "low-energy," and once even compared him to a child molester. At one point, the two also questioned each other's religious faith.
Later, Carson would explain his endorsement by saying that Trump's public demeanor was different than the "Donald Trump behind the scenes."
What Carson could offer Trump — beyond his obvious knowledge of medicine — is a strong following with evangelical Christians. He was also a prodigious fundraiser, even before he ran for president. Carson ultimately raised more than $64 million for his campaign, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission in late April.
Brian Walsh, a Republican consultant and former adviser to House and Senate leaders, said it is smart of Trump to embrace his former rivals and try to bring them into the fold. But he said it is difficult to see the appointment to the committee as anything other than a symbolic gesture.
"What most voters learned this past year is that Mr. Carson is a very nice, smart and accomplished doctor, but given how his campaign was run and donor money was wasted, it seems management isn't necessarily a strong suit," Walsh said. "And Donald Trump has many faults, but as a businessman I expect he would place a premium on strong managers for his administration."
Carson, a trailblazing pediatric neurosurgeon at Hopkins, burst onto the political scene in 2013 with a speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Though observers focused on his criticism of the policies of President Barack Obama — who was sitting feet away at the time — the address focused on what he viewed as broad problems and political correctness.
Two years later, Carson entered the race for the Republican nomination, arguing that the nation needed an outside voice to fix national politics. His campaign theme would later play on his career as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Hopkins: "Heal, inspire, revive."
Early on, Carson seemed to revel in making controversial statements — against homosexuals, for instance, and Muslims — driving a news cycle, refusing to apologize and then blaming the media and the "PC police" for taking his comments out of context.