Perhaps the most revealing moment in the most recent GOP presidential debate occurred when Trump said in response to criticism from John Kasich, “I’ve built an unbelievable company worth billions and billions of dollars. I don’t have to hear from this man.” “This man,” I suspected, is actually anyone who disagrees with Trump or who stands in his way.
Ben Carson occasionally disagrees with Trump — most recently over the deportation of 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants — and he certainly stands in the tycoon’s way. Thus, it was only a matter of time until Trump stopped playing nice and bitterly attacked Carson.
Even so, the viciousness of Trump’s tirade against Carson at an Iowa rally yesterday surprised me. Here is a portion of the Washington Post’s account:
Trump launched into a lengthy critique of Carson, who is well-liked in Iowa and has at times beat Trump in polls here. The Iowa caucuses are often dominated by evangelicals, many of whom have been captivated by Carson, who talks endlessly about his faith.
Carson wrote in his autobiography that as a young man he had a “pathological temper” that caused him to violently attack others — going after his mother with a hammer and trying to stab a friend, only to have the blade stopped and broken by the friend’s belt buckle. In recent days, those accounts have come under scrutiny, and Carson has had to clarify or correct some of the details.
Trump said Carson has a “pathological disease” with no cure, comparing it to the incurable mental conditions of child molesters. “A child molester, there’s no cure for that,” Trump said. “If you’re a child molester, there’s no cure. They can’t stop you. Pathological? There’s no cure.”
With his voice growing louder and louder, Trump questioned what sort of person would attack his mother. He questioned how a belt buckle could stop a blade, stepping away from the podium to demonstration how such an attack might happen and how his own belt buckle wouldn’t stay in place long enough to stop a knife. “Anybody have a knife?” Trump asked the audience, which was screened by Secret Service agents who began protecting him this week. “You want to try it on me?”
Trump then questioned the intelligence of Iowans and American voters in general:
How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?
Returning to Carson:
Trump said he doesn’t believe that after just a few hours of reflection, Carson found God and overcame his violent temper. “He goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours and he comes out and now he’s religious,” Trump said. “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?”
The audience laughed at times and clapped for many of Trump’s sharp insults. But an hour and 20 minutes into the speech, people who were standing on risers on the stage behind Trump sat down. The applause came less often and less loud. As Trump skewered Carson in deeply personal language, a sense of discomfort settled on the crowd of roughly 1,500. Several people shook their heads or whispered to their neighbors.
Trump, it should be added, was 40 minutes late to his event, according to the Post. He promised to take questions from the audience but instead launched into a 95-minute-long monologue.
The whispers may well grow louder in the coming days. Sharp cynicism directed at a popular candidate over testimony regarding his religious faith doesn’t seem like the path to victory in Iowa’s Republican caucuses, even if you have “built an unbelievable company worth billions and billions of dollars.”
This ugly event took place in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Time will tell, but perhaps it would more fittingly have been held in Waterloo.