Ben Carson's harsh spotlight: An unfit candidate struggles under intense scrutiny

Conservatives shield Ben Carson from the "liberal media" and protect him from the scrutiny he deserves

Published November 9, 2015 5:28PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Alvin Baez)
(Reuters/Alvin Baez)

Ben Carson has had a very strange couple of weeks. Let’s take a moment to review precisely what the arguable front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has undergone since the CNBC debate in late October. At that debate, he was challenged on his relationship with a shady nutritional supplement company that sells fart pills to very sick people. Carson denied any relationship existed, despite the many paid speeches and promotional videos he did for the group. In the days that followed, it was revealed that Carson thinks the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built by Joseph to store grain – a biblical literalist view that is supported by precisely zero historical or archaeological evidence.

But hey we’re not done yet. The day after the pyramid thing, Carson got into a fight with CNN when the network reported that childhood friends and acquaintances of the candidate don’t remember Carson being the violent and troubled youth he claims to have been. This led to the bizarre spectacle of Carson, a candidate for the presidency, forcefully insisting that he did in fact try to stab a person, and any suggestion that he didn’t try to murder someone with a knife is a “smear.”

This string of scarcely believable events culminated on Friday with a Politico report that Carson’s oft-repeated claim to have been offered a “full scholarship” to West Point was untrue. West Point doesn’t offer “full scholarships.” Everyone accepted to West Point has their entire room, board and tuition covered. But saying you were enticed with a “full scholarship” is a great, almost-honest way to make it look like the military academy was beating down your door.

All this follows months and months of other weird Carson behaviors – his repeated and inappropriate invocations of the Nazis and slavery to attack policies he doesn’t like, his Bible-based tax plan, his “book tour” in the middle of the campaign, his insistence that a Muslim should not be president, his ignorance of basic economic matters, his plan to have the government investigate “propaganda” on college campuses, and the fact that his “campaign” increasingly resembles an elaborate direct-marketing scam. And that’s only a few select tiles from the rich mosaic of Ben Carson’s strangeness.

One might think that a candidate with this many warning lights and trouble signs would have crashed fairly quickly, or never even taken off in the first place. But the Republican Party and its voters have declared war on the very concept of competent, reliable governance, which has provided space for “outsider” candidates who are manifestly unfit for the office of the presidency to seize the GOP electorate and retain a firm hold on it. Now that he’s at the top of the GOP 2016 polling, he’s facing a great deal more scrutiny, and people are starting to wonder whether Carson will survive as a front-runner for the presidential nomination.

The obvious impulse for conservatives is to rally around Carson and protect him from the nasty liberal media and its pernicious biases. The derpier corners of the conservative media are already doing exactly that, arguing that media scrutiny of Carson’s past is motivated by racial hatred and part of a broader scheme to attack black conservatives. Others found themselves harshly criticizing Carson after the Politico story and predicting his demise, only to reverse course and turn their fire back on Politico for overselling the story and toning down some of the more incendiary language in its initial report. It would be very easy for Carson to escape from this in the minds of conservatives as just another victim of what they see as a biased and antagonistic press.

But when you look at the entire Ben Carson experience to date, what’s really needed is more scrutiny, and more and better explanations for why, exactly, he thinks he’s ready to serve as president. Carson rose to prominence based on his inspiring life story and his willingness to be harshly critical of President Obama. But, as Paul Waldman notes, the more we hear from Carson on policy matters and issue of national importance, the more it becomes clear that he frequently has no idea what he’s talking about, is “impervious to evidence,” and is unwilling to entertain the notion that his convictions may be wrong. His policy platform is stuffed with grandiose and insane proposals that are completely untethered to the reality of how governments work and violate principles of basic mathematics, but he argues that he’ll accomplish them anyway because he believes in himself.

It feels safe to assume, given the mood of the Republican electorate, that Carson won’t have too difficult a time enduring these unwelcome probes into his background and bugnuts worldview. Donald Trump’s enduring popularity in the Republican primary already stands as a stinging indictment of the direction the GOP has taken. The Ben Carson phenomenon has thus far endured in spite of his whacky ideas, offensive remarks, flirtations with authoritarianism, and shady campaign practices. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he continues his rise, abetted by conservatives who want to shield him from the scrutiny he deserves.

Watch to find out what we know about Carson's alleged violent incidents:
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By Simon Maloy

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