To Ben Carson’s Fans, Those ‘Gaffes’ Aren’t Gaffes

by Hunter –

ben carson question marks

Steve Benen:

By most measures, retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson has had a brutal week as a Republican presidential candidate. He’s repeatedly struggled with the basics of American civics; he’s been incoherent during major media interviews; and in South Carolina, he attended a breakfast where he actually lost a couple of teeth.

In spite of that, Carson and Jeb Bush share top position in the polls. What’s going on here?

Ideally, the way a campaign is supposed to work, there should be some symmetry – the more ridiculous a candidate becomes, the worse he or she does.With the far-right neurosurgeon, it seems to be the opposite.

Mind you, Jeb Bush hasn’t been doing himself any favors of late; in a gaffe-off between these two you ought not discount Jeb just yet. But it is an indication of Carson’s popularity among a certain set of people, and it’s a set of people who were never much tethered to reality to begin with. Fiscal conservatives attempt to make their points using studies or statistics, both of which may or may not be fudged, but to base social conservatives their opinions of what is good and bad simply Are. Evidence that discounts their theories that, for example, gay Americans are bad or that the poor are being too coddled is not just tossed aside, but is considered a personal attack on their character. And you can go right to hell for bringing it up.

If you recall, Ben Carson became a tea party darling after remarks at a prayer breakfast with Barack Obama in which he lambasted the president over the “moral decay” of the nation, etc., etc., with a tone similar to any of his more recent fact-challenged appearances. Given that criticizing the president is the only substantive policy of the conservative movement, however, this rocketed him to instant stardom in conservative circles; at CPAC soon afterward he received accolades and a prime speaking position in the lineup. He began “gaffing” from the beginning, saying unfortunate things about gay people and comparing things to slavery, terrorism and the Nazis the moment networks started putting him on camera.

But saying deeply provocative, transparently nutty far-right things to large audiences is exactly how Ben Carson achieved conservative stardom in the first place; comparing gay Americans to NAMBLA or declaring that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to America since institutional slavery is not considered a gaffe, by this crowd. It’s considered speaking truth to power. These are things that a vast swath of the conservative base believes in their bones, and they’re damn happy to have someone finally willing to say it out loud.

As for Carson’s seeming illiteracy on civic matters, that, too, is admired. When Ben Carson hypothesizes that the president of the United States, which he aspires to be, does not necessarily have to abide by Supreme Court decisions he doesn’t like, to you or me that sounds like incompetent boobery, and disqualifying. To the social conservatives and tea party base that adores Carson, however, this is precisely what they believe should be the case. A conservative president should not have to abide by the edicts of a “liberal” court; a conservative president is in the right, and that trumps Constitutional law. The Christian religion is the Right religion, and so it stands to reason that it should be ensconced in a position of power, in America, even if the Constitution demands otherwise—because to do anything else would be inviting “sharia.” Federal officials trying to restrict the use of federal land are Illegitimate.

These are not fringe views, and a good chunk more than 13 percent (Carson’s current poll number) believes them. On the contrary, these people bristle when the press suggests that Carson’s comparisons of gay Americans to pedophiles is a gaffe, as opposed to a hard truth, or when the press pooh-poohs Carson’s knowledge of foreign policy, or law, or the budget, or anything else. He doesn’t need to know those things. He is part of the movement, and therefore he will do the right thing even if those things violate current laws, which need to be violated, or restrict the rights of certain Americans, because those Americans need their rights restricted.

He’s at the top of the polls because a good chunk of the Republican Party consists of people who not only believe each one of the reality-bending, conspiratorial, fact-challenged, insulting “gaffes” he offers forth are in fact true, and that he is a hero for saying them, and that whatever bad press he gets for saying those things is simply proof that the Liberals and the Establishment are trying to tear him down. He is the candidate of zealots. He is one of the candidates for zealots; there are several.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos


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