Ben Carson contends he is receiving a level of scrutiny that no other candidate has ever faced.
“I have never seen this before, and many other people who are politically experienced tell me they have never seen it before, either,” Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate, said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.
Having slightly edged Donald Trump in some recent Republican primary polls, Carson takes the stage tonight at the fourth Republican presidential debate amid lingering questions over his depictions of several stories in his past, as well has his capacity to lead despite lacking any formal experience in government.
Carson has had a tendency to fade into the background during the opening three GOP debates. This time, he comes in after days of being forced to respond over the last week to questions about possible exaggerations or fabrications in parts of his personal narrative.
Media outlets including CNN, Politico, and The Wall Street Journal have published stories that have questioned elements of Carson’s past. Politico reported that Carson was never formally offered a scholarship to West Point, despite his past claims he had been, while CNN said it could not find anyone to corroborate claims that Carson was a violent teenager.
And Carson will also likely face more serious questions about his ability to debate complex economic-policy issues, areas on which he has occasionally proven to be less than formidable.
“Carson has some real vulnerability because I’m not sure he has a detailed view on economic prescriptions,” said Greg Valliere, the chief global strategist at Horizon Investments.
Over the past several weeks, Carson has stumbled when asked questions about specific issues animating local voters in states where he’s campaigned. The neurosurgeon was unprepared to answer questions about a controversial Cuban immigration policy in Florida earlier this week, and was knocked for saying in September that he didn’t know how he would handle preparations for a hurricane.
In an interview with Business Insider last month, meanwhile, Carson said he was not familiar with the rationale for why Congress continued to block US Centres For Disease Control and Prevention research into gun violence as a public-health issue.
“I would obviously want to know what was the rationale behind such a ban because it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Carson said. “But you know sometimes things that are presented on the surface that don’t make sense when you find out what the rationale — you say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that.'”
Carson himself has admitted that his knowledge of policy is somewhat limited.
“There are a lot of policies that I lack knowledge on,” Carson said last week, according to Think Progress. “I’m gaining knowledge. But I don’t by any stretch of the imagination confess to knowing everything. That’s the reason you have advisers.”
The retired neurosurgeon has attempted to use questions about his lack of policy knowledge on certain issues and questions about inconsistencies in his personal narrative to his advantage. Over the weekend, for example, Carson repeatedly slammed media outlets and sarcastically “thanked” the collective media for helping boost his fundraising totals.
We the People have made 10,000 donations each day this week, raising $US3.5M this week alone. Thank you biased media.
— Dr. Ben Carson (@RealBenCarson) November 7, 2015
“He’s probably been able to use that to his advantage. He’s mobilized his supporters who feel he is being unfairly persecuted,” Valliere said.
But many of his opponents aren’t ready to let him off the hook, either.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who did not qualify for the main-stage debate, scoffed earlier in the week at the notion that Carson was receiving unfair treatment.
“Is he kidding?” Christie said Monday. “Did he watch what I went through in January of 2014 for months and months of relentless attacks from people in the media and in the partisan Democratic Party when it turned out that I did absolutely nothing wrong? I haven’t gotten a note of apology from anybody yet.”
And the rival who will be standing right next to Carson on Tuesday has expressed few reservations at using Carson’s past statements against him.
“Well, if you have pathological disease, that’s a problem,” Trump told “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday, referring to a line in Carson’s autobiography. “I mean, he wrote it. I didn’t write it. But he’s going to have to explain a lot of things away.”
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