Three months ago, Donald Trump was the leading candidate for the GOP’s presidential nomination. Accordingly, a series of blogs at this site, examined what he would bring to the table as both a candidate and as president (1). But, starting in October and right up to the present, the front-runner has lost his grip on first place, surrendering it to Dr. Ben Carson. Thus, an analysis of the latter’s strengths and weaknesses is altogether warranted.
On a personal level, Dr. Carson is quite likable; soft-spoken, mild-mannered, polite and not given to engaging in the sort of bravado and braggadocio that so animated much of Trump’s speech. Referring to the good doctor as “gentle Ben” would be “on the mark”. He is steeped in Seventh Day Adventist religious doctrine and is a devout believer. For all these reasons, and perhaps some not stated here, he earns the highest favorable poll ratings, especially for “trustworthiness”, among all candidates from both parties.
His life story, extending all the way into his well-earned reputation as a world-class neurosurgeon, has its compelling aspects. But, what has now arisen is a serious question about how honest he has been in describing some events from his teen years. One involves his being awarded an appointment to West Point, a claim that does not square with records at the Academy. A second involves his relating how, in high school, he protected some white students from rioting Blacks. This may or not have happened; neither verification not disclaimers have surfaced to date. (2).
As a politician, Dr. Carson is very anti-establishment, having never run for nor held an elected office anywhere, at any time. Thus, politically, he is the quintessential novice. Apart from his empty political resume’, the candidate’s tyro status manifests itself in other ways: For the most part, he is vague on policy. When he does come forth with a proposal like his reforming the tax code it takes the form of a flat tax on everyone, a favorite Libertarian idea that has been roundly rejected many times over. He stands fore square against abortion in all cases; no exceptions.
Apart from the foregoing, Dr. Carson is given to making public statements that typically cause people’s eyebrows to shoot up into their hairlines. Herewith, a sampler: (1) Jews might have prevented the Holocaust had they simply held onto what guns they possessed and fought back against Nazi Germany; (2) the earth is just 6,000 years old; (3) forcing people to either subscribe to Obamacare or pay a penalty is the equivalent of “slavery” (his word); and (4) the Egyptian pyramids were constructed to serve as storehouses for grain rather than tombs for the pharaohs. What is especially troubling about #2 and 4 above is that they fly in the face of mountains of scientific evidence.
Whether or not he wins the first GOP primary (the Iowa caucuses), he is sure to finish high up among his opponents. Where he goes from there is a question for which there is presently no easy answer. What is certain, however, is that his demeanor will remain an asset. Among grassroots Republican voters, his anti-establishment status will also be a plus. What remains to be seen is how more traditional conservatives will respond to his political inexperience, embellishing of his personal story, and questionable public statements that are so out of step with known facts.
- See “Trump under a microscope: I – IV” published at this site during August and September, 2015.
- Dr. Carson’s life story has been laid out in his book with Cecil Murphey, “Gifted Hands. Zondervan Publ., 1997.