A lot of Donald Trump critics (including me) have long shaken their heads at the Republican front-runner’s incessant use of platitudes to gloss over his shortcomings as a candidate. That’s not to say that the tactic hasn’t been effective. It absolutely has.
Much like what we saw with Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” campaign in 2008, policy positions, a grasp of the issues, and a coherent plan forward aren’t as highly valued items among a good chunk of the electorate as a catchy, often-repeated slogan.
One of Trump’s favorite expressions (one that he used ad nauseam in last night’s CNN debate) is that, as president, he’s going to “make deals.” The phrase of course plays off of Trump’s strengths and iconic brand as a businessman. It also serves another purpose.
In a piece in the National Review this morning, Charles Cooke describes the phrase as a “rhetorical device” that allows Trump to “justify his routine incoherence and total lack of policy expertise.”
Cooke is certainly correct. That being said, one can’t deny that Trump does have some obvious talent as a deal-maker. After all, he just received the endorsement of former rival, Ben Carson.
Sure, a political endorsement isn’t akin to high-level, big-money, corporate negotiations, but in the case of Ben Carson, it might just be as impressive.
Carson has long been recognized as a man of strong character. He’s a person of deep faith and moral conviction. His life-story is an inspiring, true testament to the glory of redemption. He has literally saved lives — many lives. He has taken people’s pain away, and he has made the quality of life immeasurably better for countless others. His endorsement is worth something.
And he has just endorsed Donald Trump, a man whose political rise was built — in part — off of Trump’s degradation and mockery of Carson’s honorable, inspirational legacy.
That must have been one hell of a deal.
I realize I sound cynical, but I call things as I see them. Even in an election cycle as bizarre as this one has been, the Carson endorsement strikes me as particularly inexplicable.
Months ago, when Carson’s candidacy was threatening Trump’s in the polls, Trump chose not to attack Carson on policy, experience, or anything related to Carson’s platform. He instead attacked Carson’s very character:
Trump trashed Carson’s autobiography, framing it as fictional and hopelessly dishonest. At a rally in Iowa, Trump called people who believed Carson’s life-story “stupid.” He even stepped out from behind his podium, and asked people in the audience to try and stab him with a knife — a mockery of a life-changing story from Carson’s youth.
Trump turned Carson’s self-description of his temperament as a kid into a theme that the Carson of today is pathologically unstable, and thus comparable to a “child molester” — yes, a child molester.
Trump diminished Carson’s vast achievements as a world renowned neurosurgeon, overlooking all of his medical breakthroughs and the people he’d helped, to insist that Carson was just “okay” at his job.
Trump even mocked Carson’s faith journey, saying, “[Carson] goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours, and he comes out, and now he’s religious. And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. Give me a break. It doesn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way. Don’t be fools, okay?”
Keep in mind that this is the same Donald Trump that took great, vocal offense to having his own religious beliefs questioned.
Hey, perhaps Dr. Carson is simply living by the coveted Christian tenant of forgiveness, and that’s his explanation for looking past the things Trump has said about him. It’s certainly possible (even though Trump himself has famously claimed never to have asked God for forgiveness).
That wouldn’t explain, however, the backing of a man whose moral code and highly demeaning and divisive rhetoric seem to stand in direct conflict with the platform of unity and civility that Carson tried so eloquently to campaign on.
It seems unfathomable that a man of Carson’s moral principles would even entertain advocating for someone who mocks disabled people, brags of his affairs, works references to women’s genitalia into public addresses, lies at will, and presents himself as his own false idol. Then again, many other evangelical voters have demonstrated that they don’t care about such things in a candidate, so maybe I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am.
I guess I also shouldn’t be surprised that even Carson’s stances on the issues seem pretty far removed from Trump’s, whether we’re talking about healthcare, taxes, federal spending, or items within the social arena. Sure, we saw the same discrepancy with Chris Christie, but then again…that was Chris Christie; he hadn’t set the integrity-bar very high for himself. The larger observation, I suppose, is what I alluded to earlier: Issues really don’t matter anymore.
I do respect Ben Carson, and I do believe him to be a good man. I just hope whatever he got out of this deal somehow enables him to, in some small way, advance his noble vision for the country. Because the vision he just endorsed isn’t it.