This is the smartest possible response from a man who’s admired by voters for his piety and service as a healer. He turned the other cheek:

“It’s so sad watching and listening to him,” Armstrong Williams said on CNN’s “New Day.” “I mean, a man who is so accomplished, who has been so blessed, but yet cannot fathom why Dr. Carson or anyone else would be doing better than he in the presidential race right now.”…

“He just cannot accept leading from behind,” Mr. Williams said. “He cannot accept being challenged. He cannot reconcile how this is happening. Obviously, he only wants to be on the stage by himself, crowned the nominee, and run against the eventual Democratic challenger.”

On multiple occasions Thursday, Mr. Trump likened Mr. Carson’s “pathological” temper — which the retired neurosurgeon has written about as a formative part of his younger years — to the incurable behavior of a child molester.

Carson, added Williams, asked him to pray for Trump when he heard about Trump’s rant. Influential Iowa talk-radio host Steve Deace (who’s already endorsed Cruz) called Trump’s tirade against Carson “[m]aybe the most embarrassing 9 minutes I’ve ever seen from a GOP presidential candidate.”

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.

What’s happening here is a candidacy built on saying outrageous (and often necessary) things is now like the proverbial dog who catches the car. Trump has come to the fork in the road — either become even more outrageous or evolve from provocateur to leader. If you truly want to be president you do the latter, but if you don’t you do the former and act out all the more to self-eliminate (think Ross Perot 1992).

Equating the youthful temper of a guy who’s saved thousands of kids’ lives on the operating table to the pathological compulsion of a child molester is … really something. And the weirdest part, as I noted on Wednesday, is that Trump had been surprisingly subdued lately in attacking his competition. He didn’t go after anyone at the debate; he didn’t go after anyone after the debate. On Wednesday morning, he told Scarborough on MSNBC that the other candidates have all been cordial with him and that he feels like he’s made some friends(!) from this process. He went so far as to say when asked that he’d trust Carson to manage one of his companies. Carson’s campaign manager grumbled later that they were all prepared with a sharp comeback if Trump came after Carson at the debate — and they didn’t get to use it. Suddenly, 48 hours later, Trump’s at the mic in Iowa reenacting how a knife might conceivably deflect off a belt buckle and mocking the idea — in Iowa! — that Carson might have had a youthful religious awakening that helped him overcome his impulses towards sin. (Read David Brody, CBN’s political correspondent, for an evangelical reply to that. “[W]hen Trump says there’s no cure, he’s wrong. Jesus cures.”) What the hell happened? The unnerving thing about this week isn’t that Trump got unusually nasty with an opponent, even one as well-liked as Carson, it’s that he’s suddenly wildly erratic in his approach to the competition. I thought the new, subdued Trump was his way of trying to show a more presidential comportment now that we’re less than three months from voting and he’s still in the lead. He blew that theory up last night in Iowa. I don’t know what he’s doing now. Does he?

Which is not to say he’ll lose votes over this. If you’ve stuck with him this far, you’re probably in for good. What it might mean, though, is that the 20-25 percent he’s pulling right now in Iowa is as far as he’ll go. And unless Cruz surges and starts pulling votes from Carson, that’s probably not enough to win.

Update: Trump celebrates Friday the 13th the Trump way.

Happy Friday the 13th

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on