There are rhetorical reaches on a campaign trail, and then there’s this bizarre analogy from Donald Trump. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, the Republican front-runner claims that Ben Carson’s description of his violent temper as a youth makes him unfit for office now, because anything “pathological” must be incurable. Trump then goes on to equate this situation to child molesters, saying since both are incurable, Carson’s temper puts him in the same league.
Er … what?
“It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper,” Trump told “Erin Burnett OutFront,” speaking about Carson’s autobiography. “That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”
In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Carson attributes violent behavior in his youth to his “disease,” a “pathological temper” that the Republican presidential hopeful said caused him to strike one friend with a rock and attempt to stab another. In subsequent accounts of his violent youth, Carson said he once attempted to attack his mother with a hammer.
“I’m not bringing up anything that’s not in his book,” Trump told Erin Burnett. “You know, when he says he went after his mother and wanted to hit her in the head with a hammer, that bothers me. I mean, that’s pretty bad. When he says he’s pathological — and he says that in the book, I don’t say that — and again, I’m not saying anything, I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a very serious disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease.”
Two points. First, “pathological” does not mean “incurable,” and anyway Carson uses the term as a descriptor, not a medical diagnosis. Second, there is a vast difference between having a violent temper in one’s youth, and molesting children. This is mud-slinging of the most virulent and dishonest manner.
Nor is it a momentary lapse. Yesterday, Trump spoke at a rally in Iowa and made the same argument in a meandering, 95-minute speech that appears to show Trump getting rattled by his competition. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson reports that Trump “appeared to unravel on stage”:
At first, the audience was quick to laugh at Trump’s sharp insults and applaud his calls to better care for veterans, replace the Affordable Care Act and construct a wall along the Mexican border. But as the speech dragged on, the applause came less often and grew softer. As Trump attacked Carson using deeply personal language, the audience grew quiet, a few shaking their heads. A man sitting in the back of the auditorium loudly gasped. …
He scoffed at those who have accused him of not understanding foreign policy, saying he knows more about Islamic State terrorists “than the generals do.” He took credit for predicting the threat of Osama bin Laden and being right on the “anchor baby situation,” a position he says “these great geniuses from Harvard Law School” now back. He uttered the word “crap” at least three times, and promised to “bomb the s—” out of oil fields benefiting terrorists. He signed a book for a guy in the audience and then tossed it back at him with a flip: “Here you go, baby. I love you.”
Trump called Republican rival Carly Fiorina “Carly whatever-the-hell-her-name-is,” accused Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” and said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is “weak like a baby.” He then devoted more than 10 minutes angrily attacking his chief rival, Ben Carson, saying the retired doctor has a “pathological disease” with no cure, similar to being a child molester.
“If I did the stuff he said he did, I wouldn’t be here right now. It would have been over. It would have been over. It would have been totally over,” Trump said. “And that’s who’s in second place. And I don’t get it.”
Conservative radio host Steven Deace was appalled — and broken-hearted at the spectacle:
Watch all 9 minutes of this like I did. This broke my heart. I like Donald, and he’s been used in a mighty way to dismantle the GOP establishment in this primary (which we owe him a debt of gratitude for). But this is embarrassing. Maybe the most embarrassing 9 minutes I’ve ever seen from a GOP presidential candidate. And when your last two nominees are Romney and McCain, that’s saying something.
There’s no other way to describe this other than a complete meltdown, and if you watch the reaction of most of those sitting in the background it’s clear they’re not comfortable with it, either. This isn’t “Trump being Trump” or “telling it like it is.” This is conduct unbecoming of the highest office in the world. I highly doubt you build a multi-billion dollar, global conglomerate talking to people like this. If his goal was to hurt Ben Carson I suspect it will have the exact opposite impact.
Note that the crowd is not only not cheering this, but they begin looking mighty uncomfortable within the first two minutes. They’re not responding to Trump’s laugh lines like “give me a break,” so he feels the need at one point to step away from the microphone and mimic a knife attack. The only positive response Trump gets is when he calls the media “scum.” Deace is right — this is a meltdown.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that these personal attacks come after Carson attacked Trump on his immigration policies. Trump has responded in the past to attacks from other candidates by ridiculing them, and those stuck because voters in this cycle distrust politicians as part of the status quo. Carson, however, is not a part of the establishment, and furthermore is well liked by the Republican base. In fact, Carson has the highest favorabilities in the field, and Trump among the lowest. Trump might damage Carson marginally, but he’s going to self-immolate if keeps taking this act on the road.
Finally, Trump misses the entire point of Carson’s memoir. He admits to his violent temper as a way of explaining his redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. It intends to inspire young people by showing that they are not “incurable,” but can prevail over difficult circumstances and unhappy childhoods. Whether one supports Carson as a presidential candidate, most people can read his story and find inspiration and hope. Trump, for some reason, only sees child molesters, and that says much more about Trump than it does Carson. Of all the temperaments that need more scrutiny, Donald Trump just proved that his is the most questionable of all.
Update: I forgot to include the link to Deace’s Facebook post, but it’s there now.