One of the most bizarre presidential election cycles in living memory just got a whole lot weirder.
The Trump phenomenon has entered a phase of slow descent for now, paving the way for another outsider candidate to rise. Dr. Ben Carson is almost certainly a man of a more measured temperament and moral fortitude than Trump. Also, unlike Trump, Carson’s accomplishments are due solely to his aptitude, capacity for industry, and intellect. As exemplary men of achievement go, the GOP is far better served by Ben Carson’s rise to the forefront of the pack of Republican presidential candidates than they are by Trump’s ascendancy.
That is not to say that Ben Carson is qualified to serve as President of the United States. He is not. Though he is a lettered and brilliant man, Carson has not demonstrated competency or an understanding of the contours of policy that a modern commander-in-chief must fully grasp. As early as March, Carson was probed by radio host Hugh Hewitt on a range of issues related to foreign affairs. It was then that Americans learned that the pediatric neurosurgeon preferred to view the Middle East’s myriad ethno-geographic conflicts through the lens of Biblical scripture and was unclear on the fact that the Baltic States had been members of the NATO alliance for over a decade. In the months that have passed, the candidate has not boned up on the granular details of policy and process.
This week, Carson was stumped by a question on Cuba policy and confessed that he was unfamiliar with the U.S. asylum policy commonly referred to as “wet foot, dry foot.” That is, when Cuban migrants manage to make it onto U.S. soil, they are provided the opportunity to access expedited refugee status. Carson revealed that he had never heard of that policy. Earlier, he contended that Medicare and Medicaid were plagued by “half a trillion dollars” in losses due to fraud. “If true, that would be almost 50 percent of our total spending on the two programs,” the Washington Post’s James Downie noted. “The real number is somewhere between 3 and 10 percent.”
Carson has maintained his attachment to Biblical history in order to explain present phenomena, resulting in a superficial controversy over whether the great pyramids of Giza were not tombs but were, in fact, designed to serve as monstrous grain silos. Finally, in an oddly defensive post on his Facebook page, Carson contended that his lack of electoral experience should not disqualify him from high office since “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” That’s just not true; many Founders served as elected sheriffs, tax collectors, colonial assemblymen, et cetera before they were selected to serve in the Continental Congress. This error should trouble any American possessed of a proper reverence for their country’s origins and an interest in the philosophies of the men who built the longest enduring constitutional republic in human history.
If Carson’s biography and general comportment are better suited to the presidency than are Trump’s — and they are — it’s not at all clear his grasp on policy is any stronger than is that of the reality television star. What’s more, Carson’s penchant for allowing the news cycle to hijack his message is almost as bad as Trump’s. The celebrity candidate who gave us such hits as “who’s doing the raping?” when referring to Mexican illegal immigrants has yielded to Carson, who is now eagerly defending his claim that he once stabbed a man. Yes, that’s right; the GOP presidential candidate now leading in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls is aggressively contending that he once took a knife to a friend with the aim to gravely wound if not to kill.
It is a claim that has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, and Carson has grown bitter and defensive in the process. There is no other way to describe his strikingly off-putting interview on Friday morning’s edition of CNN’s “New Day.” Host Alisyn Camerota was as gracious as she could be when noting that her network’s fact checkers had investigated his evolving story about stabbing a friend (who later became a close relative), as well as his other tales of violence including hitting and throwing rocks at other young men. “This is a bunch of lies attempting to say I’m lying about my history,” Carson scoffed. “I think it’s pathetic, and basically what the media does is they try to get you distracted.”
Carson went on in that interview to indict the political press for failing to vet properly Barack Obama when he first ran for the White House in 2008, and he scored some decent points. Conservatives who would, however, claim that media disinterest in the president’s past justifies giving today’s presidential aspirants a pass are making a mistake. I would humbly submit that determining whether or not a prospective President of the United States stabbed a person is a worthwhile endeavor and a justified application of journalistic resources. It is no display of media bias to thoroughly investigate the validity of Dr. Carson’s contention.
Furthermore, there is reasonable cause to doubt the veracity of Carson’s evolving tales of youthful violence. He has admitted to exaggerating details of his biography in the past. On Friday, Carson’s campaign admitted that the story in his autobiography Gifted Hands, in which he was offered a “full scholarship” to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was not true. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in RTOC,” wrote Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett in a letter to Politico. “He considered it but, in the end, did not seek admission.”
But whether or not Ben Carson stabbed someone in his childhood – a sentence that itself is a wonder to have to write – is almost immaterial in the long run. Voters in November of next year will not be heading to the polls to participate in a referendum about which candidate has the best knife skills. They will weigh in on the fundamentals of the state of the economy, affairs abroad, and which candidate will serve as the steadiest hand on the tiller in both fair and foul weather. In his short time as a candidate on the rise, Carson has shown an inability to stay on message. He has displayed a willingness to cloud his campaign with unnecessarily controversial comments about irrelevant subject matter. He seems joyfully ignorant on matters of policy and politics, and he has demonstrated poor instincts (like his claim that he would empower rather than dissolve the Department of Education, and give it the mission of policing speech on college campuses).
Dr. Ben Carson is an admirable figure, but he is no more suited to the White House than is Donald Trump. Political observers acquainted with electoral dynamics have known for some time that the doctor will face insurmountable odds in his quest for the White House as the Republican nominee, but only the most willfully blind could fail to see that now.