Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, rising in GOP presidential polls, is routinely described in the media as “soft-spoken” and, of course, Christian. But in his increasingly vicious response to the Roseburg, Oregon, shooting, he’s sounded neither soft-spoken nor Christian at all.
Carson, who attacked President Obama for “politicizing” the shooting at Umpqua Community College, said he changed his mind about the merits of an assault-weapons ban because he read about “tyranny.” He has also called for the arming of kindergarten teachers to prevent child massacres like the 2012 Sandy Hook killings. But he may have gone too far when he criticized victims of the Oregon mass shooting for not fighting back against their killer.
“Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me, I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,’” he told Fox News.
It sounded a lot like Donald Trump’s attack on Senator John McCain for being captured and held a POW during the Vietnam war. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said in June. Carson seemed to be saying, “I like people who weren’t gunned down in a classroom.”
Still, for most of this campaign, Carson had seemed like the anti-Trump, despite his hard-right views. He delivers his jibes, when he slings them, in a mild voice, almost thoughtfully. Where Trump shouts, Carson indeed speaks softly. And as Trump has moved beyond dog-whistling to using a megaphone when it comes to issues of race, crime and immigration, Carson in his very person seems to defend the GOP from charges of stoking racial polarization for political gain.
The top rival to the man who called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” and who defends police excess as an appropriate response to rising crime, is an African-American neurosurgeon who became an icon to African-Americans, then built his political fame on the white Christian book-and-conference circuit. How can the GOP be castigated as the party of white people (in fact, nine of 10 2012 Republican voters were white) when one of its top two contenders is black?
But the modern GOP has always been happy to showcase a few prominent black conservatives. It used to be former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who recently admitted he stays in the increasingly right-wing party “because it annoys them.”