Ben Carson’s shockingly weak debate performance

Dr. Ben Carson delivered what I thought was the worst performance in tonight’s GOP presidential debate. Make that debates. He performed more poorly in the main event than even George Pataki did in the preliminary one.

Pataki was listless. Carson was lame.

Let’s start with his most egregious answer. It turns out that Carson opposed going to war in Afghanistan after 9/11. Called on to explain this position, he said that he didn’t advocate doing nothing, but thought President Bush should use “the bully pulpit.”

Use the bully pulpit in response to 9/11? Carson has got to be kidding. As Marco Rubio patiently explained, Afghanistan was al Qaeda’s “operating space.” And the Taliban government flatly refused to do anything to change this even after its ally Pakistan tried to persuade it to (not that we should have relied on the Taliban in any case).

Carson defended his view by saying that we need to be “smart,” not just “muscular.” This sounds like the Democrats and their “smart power” mantra — an excuse for inaction that has proved ruinous.

In any case, it would have been stupid not to have toppled the Taliban after 9/11. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is unfit to be commander-in-chief.

Carson was also lame on immigration. Previously, he has said that deporting all illegal immigrants isn’t practical. Asked about this sensible position tonight, he said he doubts that it’s practical but will listen to those who say it can be done.

Carson has been in this race for a good while now, and immigration has been a major issue throughout the campaign. Carson should know by now whether it’s practical to deport all illegal immigrants.

As I discussed here, Carson has also been squishy on the subject of amnesty. Tonight, he denied supporting it, but his past statements are more ambiguous.

On the economy too, Carson doesn’t seem to have thought things through to the extent one would expect from a candidate at this stage of the campaign. In the past, he has said he favors a flat tax, which he compares to tithing. Tonight, if I heard him correctly, he said that Mike Huckabee’s “fair tax” (a tax only on consumption) is interesting. Aren’t we past the point where this is an acceptable response?

Carson also hedged on the minimum wage. According to my notes, he said we “probably or possibly” should raise the minimum wage. Neither “probably” nor “possibly” is much of an answer. Combined, they are even weaker.

Carson concluded that we should get “everybody talking” to set “a reasonable minimum wage.” I don’t know what Carson means by “everybody,” but if he thinks consensus can be reached with the Democrats on this issue, he is clueless.

Ben Carson currently is in second place, not terribly far behind Donald Trump and well ahead of everyone else. Trump isn’t more knowledgeable about policy than Carson (though at least he knows where he stands). Thus, although it’s still early days, the situation is becoming a little scary.