As Carson Stumbles, Trump Slowly Turns the Knife
Policy + Politics

As Carson Stumbles, Trump Slowly Turns the Knife

© Alvin Baez / Reuters

Republican presidential contender Ben Carson struck back on Sunday, with somewhat mixed results, at a barrage of stories from the media suggesting that he had embellished – or just plain made up – a number of elements in his otherwise compelling life story.

He ripped a Wall Street Journal article in which the reporter claimed that a class given at Yale Carson claimed to have taken in his book Gifted Hands, did not actually exist. Carson pushed back by posting to social media what he said was a syllabus from the class. However, Carson claimed to have taken the class in 1970, and the syllabus was from 2002.

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He seemed to score partial points against The Journal, which had called into question Carson’s claim that he was named the “most honest” student in the class after a hoax in which members of a psychology class were told that their final examinations had been destroyed before they were graded, and that they would need to be retaken.

The Journal reported finding no record of the hoax, but Carson’s campaign found a story in the Yale Daily News telling how a student prank involving a fake issue of the student newspaper had convinced a handful of psychology students that they would have to retake a final exam. In Carson’s telling, however, the prank had been devised by his professor as a sort of test of moral character that Carson, alone among his classmates, passed.

In multiple appearances on the weekend’s Sunday political talk shows, the former pediatric neurosurgeon claimed that his background has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny by the media, and blamed it on the “secular progressive movement” in the U.S. that, he said, views him as a threat.

Carson’s claim that he is getting an unheard of level of press attention is something any number of current and former presidential candidates would no doubt be happy to dispute, but there is no denying that he has been battered by multiple negative stories in recent days, generally about claims related to his past that reporters have been unable to corroborate.

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His claims in books and interviews that he turned down admission to West Point, that he sheltered white students during a race riot in Detroit while in high school, that as a young man he was subject to violent and even murderous fits of rage, and more have all come into question as reporters tried to verify them by talking to people who knew Carson at the time, as well as authorities at West Point and Yale.

Carson said the media is convinced that “there has to be a scandal” and that he is being treated unfairly.

“If you’ve got a real scandal, if you’ve got something that’s really important let’s talk about that,” he said. However, in the absence of one, “There are so many important things that need to be talked about.”

Carson’s chief competitor for the Republican presidential nomination at the moment is billionaire former reality television star Donald Trump, who has not been shy about attacking and ridiculing his opponents throughout the campaign.

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On Sunday, however, across multiple telephone interviews with talk shows, Trump adopted the tone of a concerned colleague, suggesting that he’s genuinely worried about Carson, whom, he said, he has come to consider “a friend.”

Of course, in expressing worry for Carson and a hope that things “come out great for him” Trump was careful, at each appearance, to meticulously mention almost every one of the issues currently dogging his opponent.

He dwelled particularly on Carson’s claims, in his autobiography, that before finding religion he was prone to violent outbursts that included attempting to stab a close relative, considering striking his mother in the head with a hammer, and more. He also latched on to the fact that Carson, in the book, used the word “pathological” to describe his violent tendencies.

Again, adopting a tone of deep concern, Trump said, “He talked about he had pathological disease. That’s a pretty serous statement when you say you have pathological disease because as I understand it you can’t really cure it.”

Trump’s dubious medical analysis notwithstanding, it was an effective – if underhanded – way of trumpeting his opponent’s weaknesses without appearing to outwardly revel in them, and Carson can probably expect a lot more sympathy from Trump in the weeks to come.