The biggest question leading up to the fourth GOP presidential debate is which Ben Carson will show up tonight? Will it be the mild-mannered, soft-spoken retired neurosurgeon, or the defensive fabulist and conspiracy theorist?
Perhaps Ben Carson’s biggest problem has fallen victim to believing his own mythology, especially since much of it is myth of his own making.
Carson’s life has been fodder for a bestselling biography and a made-for-television movie. It was the basis for his career as a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and pitchman. Now that he’s running for president, and gaining in GOP primary polls, Carson’s version of his life story is getting the usual media scrutiny. It turns out that some shades of limelight are not flattering.
Several key aspects of Carson’s life story, which he’s recounted in books and interviews, appear to be embellished or just plain made up.
- His violent youth. Carson has regaled countless audiences with stories of his violent youth, including: punching a classmate in the head with a metal lock; throwing a rock at a friends face; trying to hit his mother in the head with a hammer; attempting to stab a friend, only to be thwarted by the intended victim’s huge belt buckle.
But CNN went to Detroit, Michigan in search of Carson’s victims, or friends who remembered his storied violence, and found nothing. CNN couldn’t find anyone who remembered anger and of violence Carson has said characterized his youth.
- He protected white students during the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. According to the story Carson told just a month ago, Carson was a junior lab assistant in 1968. As such he had a key to the schools biology workroom. Carson said he shepherded his white friends to the lab to save them from the violence.
This story doesn’t have any more proof behind it than of Carson’s other stories.
- He got a full scholarship to West Point. Carson seems to truly believe that as a young man West Point offered him a full scholarship. After all, the story had been a part of Carson’s personal story, repeated again and again over the years. In his book Gifted Hands, Carson told of being introduced to Gen. William Westmoreland at 17-years-old. The two had dinner, after which Carson said Westmoreland offered him a “full scholarship” to West Point.
The problem? West Point has no record of Carson ever even applying, let alone being accepted and receiving a “scholarship.” Besides, there are no West Point “scholarships.” An application to West Point begins with a recommendation by a member of Congress or prominent military or government official. If offered admission, all costs are covered for students. There are no scholarships. Carson’s campaign was forced to admit that, “Dr. Carson did not seek admission.”
- He was named Most Honest Student. The story goes that the professor who taught the Perceptions 301 psychology course at Yale told students that all their final exam papers were destroyed in a fire, and they’d all have to re-take a new, harder exam. All 150 students refused, but one — Ben Carson. The professor revealed it was a hoax, to see who was the most honest student in the class. It was Carson, who go this picture in the paper, and a $10 reward.
Except the class didn’t exist, and the whole story was a prank. There was a newspaper article about the hoax, but Carson wasn’t photographed for it.
Yet another Ben Carson was revealed at a press conference to address the West Point story, when Carson’s demure mask slipped, revealing a man seething with anger and contempt, as he lashed out at the media for daring to question him.
Whining about increased media scrutiny hasn’t won Carson supporters on the right. New Jersey governor and presidential candidate Chris Christie had this response on CNN’s “New Day”:
“Is he kidding?“ Christie asked Chris Cuomo, referring to Carson. ”Did he watch what I went through in January of 2014 for months and months of relentless attacks from people in the media and in the partisan Democratic Party when it turned out that I did absolutely nothing wrong? I haven’t gotten a note of apology from anybody yet.”
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough slammed Carson’s “complete and total ignorance of American history” to say no one’s been vetted like him.
Conservative Twitter was also less than impressed.
Not good. RT “Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship” https://t.co/uXlrJMkV29
— Monica Crowley (@MonicaCrowley) November 6, 2015
People, don’t run for president: https://t.co/UDR5SPgUgP
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) November 6, 2015
Okay, this actually could (i.e. this will) be a problem for Ben Carson. https://t.co/WZT0l7ARYS
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) November 6, 2015
Welp, you had a good run https://t.co/ikUXlkAbuU
— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizWFB) November 6, 2015
I seriously don’t understand why people are defending Carson. He fibbed. It’s not a felony. It’s a fib. But it’s his. He did it.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) November 6, 2015
Dr. Carson – how disappointing, sir.
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) November 6, 2015
Actually, there’s one thing Carson is probably telling the truth about; that questions about the veracity of his biography, and some of his crazier beliefs probably won’t hurt his campaign — at least not in the Republican primary. Despite, or perhaps because of the controversies swirling around him, Carson is still raising money. He also surged ahead in the polls this week, to tie with Donald Trump in South Carolina.
Carson probably won’t melt down during tonight’s debate. He probably won’t face any tough questions from the Fox Business moderators. (Though the same may not be said for his Republican opponents.) He’ll survive, for now, because the primary-voting GOP base care more about what he believes, than how much he knows about policy, or how much they really know about the personal story that drives his campaign.
But in the unlikely event that Carson finds himself in the general election, he’ll find that American voters aren’t as unquestioning as the GOP base. Which Ben Carson will show up then?