But the things that this guy says, and what he claims to believe? Holy crap! Carson is chock full o’nuts.
And yet to date, Carson has paid no political price for his nuttiness. Quite the opposite, the crazier things he says, the more the GOP’s Christian Right, his political base, loves him.
Take yesterday’s social media storm over Carson’s belief that the Egyptian pyramids were built by Joseph for grain storage during the biblical seven years of famine. Ben Carson’s pyramid comments dominate social media chatter, even in Egypt.
Or his laughably false assertion that the Founding Fathers lacked elected legislative experience in an attempt to make the case that a political novice with no experience, like him, could be president. Ben Carson’s absurd notion that the Founding Fathers had ‘no elected office experience’.
Steve Benen noted this absurd situation recently with respect to Carson’s flat out lie during the CNBC debate about his relationship with the nutritional supplement company Mannatech. Ben Carson stumbles on a damaging falsehood:
For months, the pattern has been largely consistent. Ben Carson says something outlandish, offensive, or both, which sparks a media controversy. Carson sticks to his ridiculous position, his poll numbers will go up, and the political world moves on to his next outrageous comment. Rinse and repeat.
There is also Carson’s claims of a troubled and violent childhood: “At the core of his narrative of spiritual redemption are his acts of violence as an angry young man — stabbing, rock throwing, brick hurling and baseball bat beating — that preceded Carson’s sudden transformation into the composed figure who stands before voters today.” A tale of two Ben Carsons:
But nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson told CNN they have no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.
That person is unrecognizable to those whom CNN interviewed, who knew him during those formative years.
There are some things that a candidate for political office simply cannot lie about, and one is embellishing his record of military service (with the possible exception of George W. Bush). Many a candidate has ended his campaign after embellishing his military record and getting caught.
It appears that time has come for Dr. Ben Carson.
Steve Benen reports today, Carson admits to a major lie about his background:
In one of his many books, Ben Carson boasted about meeting Gen. William Westmoreland in 1969, soon after the general ended his tenure in Vietnam. At the time, Carson was a Detroit high-school student and ROTC member, and in the book, he said he was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point after the meeting.
More recently, the claim has also been part of his pitch to voters. A month ago, the Republican presidential hopeful bragged to PBS’s Charlie Rose about his ROTC service. “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point,” Carson told the national television audience.
As it turns out, this did not happen. Politico has the scoop today.
Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. […]
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission…. When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
In an email to Politico, Carson’s campaign manager said Carson had been “introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” and they “told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC.”
Apparently, in time, Carson equated this conversation into a “full scholarship” offer to the U.S. Military Academy.
The Politico piece added, “This admission comes as serious questions about other points of fact in Carson’s personal narrative are questioned, including the seminal episode in which he claimed to have attempted to stab a close friend.”
As this relates to the retired neurosurgeon’s presidential ambitions, the question is obvious: just how damaging is a revelation like this going to be?
The answer is obviously speculative – we’ll find out soon enough – though it’s worth noting that Carson managed to rise to the top of Republican presidential polling despite saying ridiculous things on a nearly daily basis. There’s no tangible evidence that GOP voters mind at all when Carson makes claims with no connection to reality.
But this morning, there’s reason to think conservatives see a qualitative difference between Carson’s bizarre beliefs about, say, Egyptian pyramids, and repeating a bogus story about West Point.
Media Matters pulled together a sampling of reactions from media figures on the right who seemed rather alarmed by today’s revelations. Erick Erickson, for example, called this “the beginning of Ben Carson’s end”; Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich described the news as “very bad”; and Breitbart News’ John Nolte wrote on Twitter, “If this is true, Carson is done.”
I don’t have a sense of whether any of those conservative pundits have an ulterior motive – maybe they’re supporting Carson rivals in the GOP race? – but if their reactions are emblematic of Republicans in general, the effects of this story will be highly consequential.
Update: At a certain level, this story doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of wiggle room – Carson said he was “offered a full scholarship to West Point”; he wasn’t offered a full scholarship to West Point; the end. But the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports that Carson’s defense is taking shape: the “offer” he received was “informal.”
“Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me [could] get a scholarship to West Point,” Carson told the New York Times. “It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.’”
In a follow-up post Benen writes, Carson faces fallout after bogus West Point story:
The potential damage to his Republican presidential campaign is significant: Carson has never sought or held public office at any level, and he’s based the entirety of his candidacy on his inspirational personal backstory and reputation for honesty.
His West Point lie, in other words, strikes at the heart of his entire campaign’s central rationale. It’s likely why some conservative media figures are starting to use phrases like “Carson is done” and “the beginning of Ben Carson’s end.”
* * *
Maybe, the argument goes, any falsehood related to the military is qualitatively different and necessarily more damaging. Perhaps.
But George W. Bush falsely claimed to have “served in the U.S. Air Force” and falsely boasted that he’d “been to war.” GOP voters didn’t mind. Lindsey Graham, before eventually clarifying, had claimed many times to have been a “Gulf War veteran,” which wasn’t true, but which had no discernible effect on his career.
Ronald Reagan used to tell a story about having served as a photographer in a U.S. Army unit assigned to film Nazi death camps. In reality, this never happened — Reagan never visited nor filmed any Nazi camps, but his blatantly false story didn’t change Republicans’ borderline-religious affection for the man.
Who knows, maybe Carson will face a far more severe backlash than some of these other Republicans who also told tall military-related tales. But a lot of pundits – including me – would have lost money in recent months betting on how Republican voters were going to react to Carson and his often odd antics.
I’d recommend holding off on any bold predictions now.