I like Ben Carson, though in the race for the GOP nomination he’s far down my preference list. Thus, I was happy to defend him from what struck me as an unfair attack by CNN on his “personal story” (having to do with manifestations of anger as a teenager).
But now, the Carson campaign has admitted that the candidate’s story about applying [note, Carson never claimed to have applied] and being admitted to West Point is untrue. Politico uncovered the falsehood:
According to a story told in Carson’s book, “Gifted Hands,” the then-17 year old was introduced in 1969 to Gen. William Westmoreland, who had just ended his command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and the two dined together. That meeting, according to Carson’s telling, was followed by a “full scholarship” to the military academy.
West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission. . . .
When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
“Dr. Carson was the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit,” campaign manager Barry Bennett wrote in an email to POLITICO. “In that role he was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”. . . .
“He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors,” Bennett added. “They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission.”
It is said that if something is too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. The statement doesn’t really apply to Dr. Carson. The undisputed portions of his personal story are, in a sense, “too good to be true.”
Thus, it’s quite unfortunately that Carson felt the need to embellish the story by saying he was admitted to West Point [note: it is unfair to Carson to assume intentional embellishment]. And, of course, this embellishment raises the possibility that other parts of his story, including that pursued by CNN, are untrue.
The fact that Carson lied [note: it is unfair to Carson to say that he lied and I have apologized for doing so] about being admitted to West Point is almost certain to wreck his presidential bid. It’s not clear to me how quickly the ruin will set in. However, I think it’s safe to say that Carson will not win the Iowa caucuses, as he was favored to do.
Trump currently stands second in Iowa, so he might be a big beneficiary of Carson’s trouble, assuming he can keep his candidacy rolling. The other big beneficiary might be Ted Cruz who has been competing with Carson for the vote of hard-line conservatives.
Carson’s woes also give hope, at least in the short term, to candidates who potentially appeal to strongly religious conservatives and values voters. Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal have new reason to believe they might end up being competitive in Iowa.
I didn’t expect Ben Carson to be the Republican nominee, but I also didn’t expect him to go the way of Herman Cain. Now, that’s a distinct possibility.
In Gifted Hands, Carson said he was offered a full scholarship to West Point. To obtain such financial assistance, he would have had to be admitted (in which case, West Point being a service academy, the assistance automatically would follow). And on his Facebook page, Carson said, “I was the highest student ROTC member in Detroit and was thrilled to get an offer from West Point.” (Emphasis added)
But when Politico contacted Carson’s campaign about this, the response was that Carson “was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors” who “told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC.”
That’s not the same thing as being offered a scholarship or getting an offer from West Point. It was only an offer of assistance by “folks from West Point” in getting him an appointment, probably coupled with an expression of confidence that, with their help, an appointment could be secured. Carson himself now says he was only told that “that someone like me – they could get a scholarship to West Point.” (Emphasis added) “Could get” isn’t the same as “got.”
Carson, in short, has mischaracterized what happened in a way that makes things sound more final, and thus more impressive, than they actually were. Have other politicians done worse? Of course. Has the mainstream media consistently called these politicians out? No.
But the standard for selecting a nominee from a large and reasonably strong field of candidates shouldn’t be whether Carson’s mischaracterization is less egregious than those of candidates not in the field.
FINAL UPDATE: I have apologized for the errors in this post that are now noted above.