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“It’s Part Of The Culture”: Carson’s Implosion Is A Reflection Of The Con Artistry That Has Overtaken The GOP

Ben Carson’s presidential campaign is imploding. One could argue that that’s the result of a candidate in freefall: things always get ugly when a campaign is losing ground in the polls, and staff shakeups are inevitable. But the way that Carson’s campaign has imploded is yet another window into the way the GOP has allowed itself to be run into the ground by charlatans of all kinds.

To begin with, as a politician Ben Carson himself is something of a fraud. By all accounts an eminently successful neurosurgeon, Carson parlayed his story of success into a grander overarching narrative that every person of color could overcome structural racism by sheer dint of hard work and determination, plus an abiding faith in God. His story became mythologized, played out on stage and on film as an example of the model minority.

But Carson, like many successful specialists, is not exactly well-rounded in his knowledge of life and the world. He drew the wrong political conclusions from his rise in the medical field, and grew to believe in his own hype–not just that he had a knack for neurosurgery, but that he was a genius in all respects and specially guided by the hand of God. Without even a political science undergraduate’s knowledge of either domestic or foreign policy, Carson decided that he was qualified to be President of the United States–and that his utter lack of policy ken or experience would be unimportant, irrelevant and undiscovered. And if he failed as a presidential candidate? There would always be a right-wing media circuit and book tour available.

In typical fashion for such a candidate, he allowed close friends and confidants to dominate his campaign instead of people who actually knew what they were doing. In particular, he trusted key decisions to Armstrong Williams, a media maven, radio jockey and advertising executive who has rather transparently been using the Carson campaign as his own vehicle for professional advancement. That in turn led to comically bad candidate preparation and campaign decision-making, with the direct result that Carson’s staff is engaged in a mass exodus.

But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. The libertarian-conservative ethic of “get rich any way you can” combined with a stubborn dismissal of objective fact makes political conservatism especially ripe for con artistry. It is no accident that Richard Viguerie was able to conduct his mail fundraising scams on the backs of GOP voters. It’s no accident that the tea party has been home to one grifter after another making a quick buck. American conservatism is the home of quack televangelists and secular Ayn Rand-spouting hucksters alike. Fox News itself is a long con perpetrated on fearful, older white Americans with the goal of making Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes rich while keeping Republican politicians in power. Donald Trump is merely the latest in a long line of egomaniacal scammers willing to play the same group of people for fools.

It should shock no one, then, that GOP presidential campaigns themselves are being waged by con artists, and themselves fall victim to media-hungry carnival barkers. It’s part of the culture.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2016 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primaries, GOP Voters | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Stick A Fork In Ben Carson”: A Man Who Has Already Come To Grips With Failure

Two days before Christmas, Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa of the Washington Post landed an interview with Ben Carson. It was conducted in Carson’s basement man-cave. The below ground-level setting is appropriate because the transcript reads like an obituary.

Dr. Carson laments virtually everything, from his annoying advisers who keep urging him to be more combative, to his inability to get mulligans for his many missteps, to the quality of the electorate, to the way the media twists his words, to the way his campaign has spent money. The overwhelming sense you get is of a man who has already come to grips with failure.

And that’s a failure in itself because the interview was supposed to demonstrate that he understands his campaign’s problems and is preparing to retool and make a big push before Iowa.

What struck me more than anything, though, is how there was no mention of any of the 13 ridiculous things that Ben Carson actually believes. The mistakes, insofar as they are detailed at all, are limited to foreign policy blunders, like his insistence that the Chinese have a large presence in Syria. But, arguably, Carson began to slip right around the time that it came out that he thinks the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain. It became increasingly clear that Carson doesn’t just have some far-right views on abortion and war crimes and the Holocaust and censorship, he actually has a borderline crazy belief system.

One wonders in this day and age how much this actually hurts you in a Republican nominating contest. After all, the guy in first place is the country’s most famous Birther. There are certainly areas where being an over-the-top bomb thrower helps you win support from the GOP base. Arguably, this was the way Carson won his initial popularity and support on the right. I assume this is what his advisers believe, too, and it’s why they’ve urged him to throw bombs not just at the president and his health care plan and reproductive rights, but at his Republican opponents.

Maybe his lack of foreign policy experience really is the best explanation for his precipitous fall in the polls. The only problem with that explanation is that Donald Trump should have suffered right along with Carson in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. Maybe Trump’s bluster and bravado cover his lack of expertise better than Carson’s mellower act.

Whatever the explanation, Carson seems like a man who is already beaten before the first vote is cast. And he knows that he’s injured his reputation in the bargain.

Carson: A weak person isn’t selected by CNN and Time magazine as one of the 20 foremost physicians and surgeons in America. That was before they discovered that I’m conservative. A weak person doesn’t have all of these honorary degrees. Most people of accomplishment have one, maybe two or three honorary degrees at most. It’s the highest award that a university gives out. I have 67. That’s probably not indicative of a weak person who doesn’t get things done.

Costa: Has this campaign helped or hurt that reputation, that legacy?

Carson: Without question, it will hurt it. But it’s not about me. I’m willing to sacrifice that legacy and that reputation if we can get our country turned around. One person is not a big deal as far as I’m concerned.

If Carson thought there were the slightest chance that he’d win the nomination, he’d certainly not answer that question by saying that “without question” the campaign will end up hurting his reputation.

You can stick a fork in him. His presidential ambitions are done.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 28, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Foreign Policy, GOP Primaries | , , , , | 2 Comments

“Dr. Ben Carson Is On Life Support”: Slowly Fading, Just One Step Away From Hospice

Moments before Tuesday night’s fear-mongering GOP debate, Ben Carson gave a preview of the utter strangeness that was to emerge from his mouth during the night’s proceedings.

During a visit to the media spin room, Carson was asked if he would need to ramp up his rhetoric in the ensuing debate. His response was nothing short of bewildering.

“Um, well maybe I’ll bring some weapons with me, spice it up a little bit,” he told ABC News, chortling at his own odd suggestion. This off-hand remark was strangely prescient, characterizing the night was to come.

Instead of the foreign policy “slam dunk” he promised in a campaign video, Carson sunk into the background as the top-tier candidates—Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and to some degree Christie—duked it out in varying dour and vicious tones.

What little stage time Carson got (some 10 minutes and 27 seconds approximately) was consumed by a highlight reel of ill-fated remarks about bombing children and disruptive coughing, and, of course, a complaint about not getting enough time.

Hugh Hewitt asked a question about the former neurosurgeon’s ability to declare war where children would inevitably end up as casualties. The response could have served as a demonstration of strength, a label which often evades Carson next to the bombastic yelling of Trump, but ended up as an ill-fated comparison to his medical experience.

“Well, interestingly enough, you should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them ‘We’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor,’” Carson tangentially responded. “They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.”

“And by the same token,” he went on, “you have to be able to look at the big picture, and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather than death by a thousand pricks.”

Hewitt pressed him by bluntly asking if Carson would be OK with the deaths of thousands of civilians and children in an effort to fight terrorism. Amidst the boos that erupted in the Venetian Casino, Carson awkwardly replied, “You got it,” seemingly not believing the words he himself was actually saying. Even when Carson leaned on what little applicable experience he has, referencing the scholars fund he created to demonstrate leadership abilities, he misfired.

“One of the things that you’ll notice if you look through my life is that I don’t do a lot of talking,” Carson said. “I do a lot of doing.” But Carson gave more than 141 paid speeches between the start of 2014 and the beginning of his campaign, not to mention an extensive, quasi-illegal book tour wedged in the middle of this campaign cycle.

His floundering in the debate may not have been so noticeable if there weren’t as much at stake for Carson. It wasn’t that long ago that Carson bolted to the front of the GOP pack, drawing the attention of Trump’s oxygen-extinguishing ire (remember when he analogized him to a child molester?).

But November’s terrorist attacks in Paris pivoted the conversation to national security and foreign policy, causing Carson, who was woefully unprepared for any in-depth conversation on either topic, to plummet in the polls.

His campaign tried to make adjustments to mold the quiet doctor into an overnight foreign policy wonk, including a trip to Syrian refugee camps, which resulted in the badly worded summarization: They were not that bad. Carson is scheduled to take another trip, this time to Africa, this month.

Carson’s campaign even released a seven-step plan to “protect America” ahead of the debate, that includes a call for a declaration of war against ISIS. Only special ops forces would be needed on the ground for the time being, his communications manager Doug Watts told The Daily Beast yesterday.

Yet in the debate, Carson seemed to be all but certain that there would be ground troops in this war.

“If our military experts say we need boots on the ground, we should put boots on the ground and recognize that there will be boots on the ground and they’ll be over here, and they’ll be their boots if we don’t get out of there now,” he said during a particularly meandering answer.

But the seventh step of the procedural is the one that probably gives the most pause. The final proposal of the Carson Doctrine to make America safe again calls for an investigation of “the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and a supporter of terrorism.”

“Given the precarious situation America is in with sleeper cells and jihadists making threats from within, and CAIR’s background, publicly stated affinity with Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, we believe further investigation is in order,” Watts elaborated.

The United Arab Emirates did in fact put CAIR on its own version of a terrorist watch list in 2014, but experts balked at the suggestion that the organization poses a viable threat in the United States.

“Carson’s remarks are typically silly,” Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institutes in Washington, told The Daily Beast. “He pontificates a great deal about Muslim and Islamic matters, and every time he opens his mouth, he reveals himself to be exceptionally ignorant and informed entirely by bigots and a hateful rhetoric.”

The bigots to whom Ibish is referring include Islamophobe and recent GOP darling Frank Gaffney Jr., who has suggested that CAIR is waging a “stealthy, pre-violent” jihad against the United States. (Gaffney also insists American Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist is secretly working to help Muslim Brotherhood moles infiltrate the U.S. government.)

Ibish explained that while CAIR may have had “origins in Brotherhood-supporting or sympathetic causes,” the organization is by no means “connected to terrorism or in any practical, material sense supportive of terrorism.”

“If Dr. Carson doesn’t realize that CAIR has been ‘investigated’ since 9/11 as thoroughly as any American organizational entity has ever been investigated by the government, he hasn’t got a clue,” Ibish added. “But then again, he is a fool.”

For their part, CAIR condemned Carson a long time ago when he said that he was against a Muslim being president.

“Ben Carson is a failing candidate grasping at straws and seeking payback for CAIR’s previous criticism of his anti-Muslim bigotry,” Corey Saylor, the national legislative director for the organization, told The Daily Beast. “He found that Islamophobia gave him a boost in the past, so he is using it again.”

But there are no obvious signs that it will give him a boost now.

Carson fell from 22 percent to 11 percent in two Washington Post-ABC News polls taken less than a month apart. And even as the campaign attempts to right the sinking ship, private tensions between business manager Armstrong Williams and other staffers are getting played out in public.

And if last night’s debate was any indication, all Carson can do is smile and feign toughness on a stage with loudmouth bigots and opportunistic politicians simply out-muscling him.

It doesn’t work to play nice anymore.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

December 18, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Islamophobia, National Security, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“None Of Them Have Any Idea Of What’s Going On”: The GOP’s Foreign-Policy Dunces Must Think We’re Stupid

In a rare moment of lucidity, Ben Carson recently confessed that “there’s nobody running [for president] who has a great deal of international experience, except for Hillary Clinton.” This was, he stressed, meant as a knock against the former Secretary of State, whose tenure as America’s top diplomat included cascading foreign policy disasters in the Middle East, a disastrous attempt at rapprochement with Russia, and the bloody chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya.

But like many of his fellow Republican presidential candidates, Carson believes the catastrophic failures of an experienced politician require the fresh thinking of an inexperienced civilian with a “logical” foreign policy. And besides, as a doctor he has “the most experience making life or death decisions.”

It’s not just a deficit of foreign policy experience amongst Republicans that should worry voters, but the stunning deficit of foreign policy knowledge. Just two days before his comments about Clinton, Carson stood before the Republican Jewish Coalition fumbling with a prepared script, correctly identifying the confessional allegiance of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas without having been briefed on how to pronounce Hamas.

One would like to take comfort that Carson’s plummeting popularity is attributable to the comic incoherence of his foreign policy platform. But the continued rise of Donald Trump, whose ideas are dumber (but louder) than Carson’s, neatly disproves this theory.

Since the latest ISIS-affiliated and inspired mass murders in Paris and San Bernardino, Trump has busied himself with solving the problem of violent Islamism. Battling against the scourge of facts, he angrily recalled the 2001 northern New Jersey intifada, in which “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheered the attacks of 9/11 from across the Hudson River. He demonstrated his conservative bona fides when agreeing that the federal government might maintain a database of “all Muslims” in America. When his supporters cheered that idea, Trump turned the crassness up a few notches and suggested that the United States might block entry of every Muslim on Earth.

And what does one do with all of those Syrian war refugees? Trump, the right-wing Walter Ulbricht, believes in the power of walls to contain most every problem facing America, from trade to immigration to radical Islam. His solution is risible but simple: build a “big, beautiful safe zone” within Syria “so people can live and they’ll be happier.” (Incidentally, his anti-immigration wall in the United States would be “tall” but, as a sop to aesthetes on the southern border, he promises to “make it very good looking.”)

And that’s just on the home front.

According to Trump, the nettlesome problem of the genocidal, imperialist “Islamic State” isn’t so nettlesome after all. In a recent radio ad, he offered a glimpse of his new counterterrorism strategy: President Trump would “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.” (This is a slight modification of his previously enumerated plan to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”). Not to be outdone, Sen. Ted Cruz has consistently reimagined Raqqa as a desert Dresden, promising to “carpet-bomb [the Islamic State] into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.”

Cruz later enlarged on his anti-ISIS policies, revealing on Twitter that “if I’m elected president, I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS.”

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

But can we achieve victory through airpower alone? Having previously knocked Marco Rubio as a “neocon” whose hobbies include “military adventurism,” Cruz dismissed the idea of using ground troops in Syria. But with polls suggesting that Americans are spoiling for a fight with Islamism, the Texas senator now says that he would consider “using whatever ground troops are necessary” to defeat ISIS.

Donald Trump too scorns Republicans who supported the Iraq War. But our post-Paris world demands a little more ideological sinew, so he too has vacillated on American ground troops engaging in the fight against ISIS “if need be.” Marco Rubio has been consistent on this point, but adds that we should videotape our raids on “Sunni leadership nodes” and post to YouTube footage of “ISIS leaders cry[ing] like babies when they’re captured.”

All of this would require significant expenditure, and with the exception of Rand Paul, every conservative on stage tonight desires more government spending on the military. While acknowledging that America’s military is the world’s strongest, Trump believes that fattening the Pentagon’s already bloated budget would provoke the ISIS leadership into retreat. He’ll make “the military so strong no one—and I mean no one—will mess with us.” (Yesterday, Jeb Bush tweeted that “the day that I’m elected president is the day we begin rebuilding the Armed Forces of America,” which suggests that we won’t be rebuilding the armed forces anytime soon.)

All of these policies are fantastically meaningless, an inconvenience that appears to be of little concern to primary voters. But almost every Republican candidate believes in the vapidity of those voters, swapping out coherent strategy for bellicose rhetoric.

One would think that a renewed focus amongst voters on terrorism would be an opportunity for Republicans, who remain the more trusted party on national security. After all, Hillary Clinton did little to stanch the bleeding in Syria and Bernie Sanders’s most comprehensive foreign policy experience is establishing a sister city program with Nicaragua’s Marxist dictatorship in Vermont. Instead, the Republican brand is now associated with oafish suggestions that the United States Air Force flatten Syria and the Department of Homeland Security create a non-Muslim fortress state.

The hated Republican establishment, we are told, is afraid of renegade ideas. Well, no. They’re afraid of bad ideas. They are afraid of candidates who promise to learn as they lead. Indeed, Trump criticized Carson as “incapable of learning foreign policy,” adding that when the professional conspiracy theorists in his campaign tell him what to think “within about two seconds I understand it.” Because to the current Republican frontrunner, the most powerful man on Earth needn’t have knowledge of foreign policy, but the desire and aptitude for on-the-job training.

And Rasputin-like instincts.

“I predicted Osama bin Laden,” Trump said in November. “In my book, I predicted terrorism. Because I can feel it, like I feel a good location, O.K.?”

O.K. I feel safer now. So when do we commence carpet bombing?

 

By: Michael Moynihan, The Daily Beast, December 15, 2015

December 16, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Middle Ground”: It’s Not Just Donald Trump’s Popularity, But Cruz’s And Carson’s Too That Endanger The GOP

The Republican Party has a problem. And it’s not just about Donald Trump.

But first, let’s talk about Trump. The billionaire candidate is certainly a thorn in the side of the GOP. He’s sucked all the oxygen out of the room in the presidential primaries, and his inflammatory statements are increasingly giving his party a bad reputation. Although prominent Republicans have taken steps to distance themselves from Trump, the party faces increasing criticism for his antics.

But Republicans can’t just shut him out of the race because of the threat of a third-party Trump candidacy. If Trump feels mistreated by the party and ends up running as an independent, the votes he could siphon off from the Republican nominee might lead to a Democratic victory. It’s a conundrum.

There is, though, a bigger problem. According to recent polling, nationwide, Trump’s lead among Republican presidential candidates is 35 percent. His next closest competitor is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose support stands at 16 percent. Third in line is Ben Carson, polling at 13 percent. None of those individuals is generally considered a feasible candidate for a general election. Their positions are so far to the right that if they were to become the Republican nominee, the party would risk alienating the moderate voters needed to win. Unfortunately for the party, their best general election candidates are polling toward the bottom of the pack. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is performing the best at 9 percent, but all the other candidates are at or below 4 percent.

There are some who feel that Trump’s poll numbers don’t tell the whole story and that his lead may be falsely inflated. If that’s true, does that theory also help explain the popularity of the other far right candidates at the top of the polls? Or has the party as a whole moved to the right? If you add up the support for Trump, Cruz and Carson, the numbers seem to indicate that 64 percent of Republicans polled are supporting the most extreme candidates. Even if the rest of the field consolidated, would any of the other candidates be able to garner enough support for the Republican Party to put its most viable candidate forward for the general election?

Whether Trump is the cause or a symptom of the challenges facing the Republican Party is a matter for another day. However, if current poll numbers are to be believed, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite among the party’s base for selecting a nominee that could capture the moderate middle necessary to win an election. That is a bigger problem for the party than Trump could ever be.

 

By: Cary Gibson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, December 11, 2015

December 14, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Ted Cruz | , , , , | Leave a comment

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