Dr. Ben Carson, a man who has long made his faith a centerpiece of his personal story, appeared on Morning Joe Friday and was pressed to discuss the accusations of inappropriate touching made against Donald Trump. What followed was an on air battle in which both sides became frustrated, with Carson even calling for one host’s microphone to be cut off.
The interview began calmly enough with Carson saying he didn’t have any insight into efforts being made by the Trump campaign to prove the accusations against the candidate were not true. Carson then pivoted and said “though I do have common sense.” “For instance, if somebody’s sitting next to you in the first class section of the airplane, there are stewardesses, there are other people around and there’s this gigantic armrest. What happened to all those things?” Carson asks, making reference to an accusation by Jessica Leeds which appeared in the NY Times.
Carson goes on to argue that all of the accusations were efforts to “take your eye off the ball.” The ball, in this case, being the state of the country. As Carson turns to the metaphor of the nation as a train speeding toward a cliff, he seems to be offering an alternative argument, i.e. the accusations are not the most important issue to be worried about at this moment. “Not that sexual language and abuses is not important but when you’re talking about the train going off the cliff, you really need to deal with that first,” Carson says.
At this point, Joe Scarborough interrupts and tries to extend Carson’s train metaphor saying, “the character of the conductor matters though, does it not?” Scarborough adds, “Character does count, does it not?” Carson replies by extending the metaphor even further. “Yes and the conductor needs to make a decision. If there’s a fight going on in the coach car and the train’s going off the cliff, which one is he going to do. That’s a good conductor,” Carson says.
The fight in the coach car apparently represents the accusations made against Trump. Carson isn’t saying (yet) that it doesn’t matter only that it matters less than the catastrophe that is about to befall the train. That seems similar to the argument Jerry Falwell Jr. was making on CNN the other day. It’s not a denial of the accusations, so much as a contextualization of them. Both men are saying there are bigger things at stake right now.
At this point the discussion turns briefly to the relative merits of Trump’s economic plan compared to Clinton’s plan. Katty Kay (who is British) makes an unflattering comparison between what Carson is saying and the Brexit campaign and then returns to the allegations against Trump. “You seem to be suggesting this morning in this interview with your description of the first class cabin, and in previous interviews, that these women are lying,” Kay says. “The real reason that women who have been sexually abused don’t come forward to talk about their stories is precisely this, that all too often they are accused of being liars. Are you saying that these women are lying?” Kay asks.
Carson replies, “That’s your characterization because you need to characterize it that way to try to make me the bad guy.” At this point both Katty Kay and Ben Carson begin talking over one another, with a little Joe Scarborough thrown in. Finally, Carson asks, “Can you turn her microphone off?” He smiles and laughs after saying it but Scarborough appears offended. “No. It’s a simple question. Yes or no. Do you believe these women are lying or not?” Scarborough asks.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re lying or not…what matters is that the train is going off the cliff. We’re taking our eye off of that and we’re getting involved in other issues,” Carson replies.
That’s a kind of politics that seems ill-suited to Ben Carson, a man whose appeal is largely based on his outspoken Christian faith and personal integrity. It’s not hard to imagine Carson himself offering someone who made this kind of argument a rebuttal from the book of Daniel. For Carson to argue, as he does here, that the truth can be set aside in favor of national political concerns seems out of place.
Here’s the full interview.