On Friday, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and until recently a candidate for the Republican nomination, endorsed Donald Trump for president. His decision to support Trump has already generated intense backlash, most notably from Ben Carson.
The day before endorsing, Carson published an opinion piece in The Washington Post surveying the options for conservatives wondering what to do if Trump becomes the nominee. Should Republicans seeking reelection embrace Trump or reject him as they campaign to stay in office?
In laying out the options, Carson depicts Trump in a way not compatible with the way he described him in his endorsement speech.
Notice that Carson's words were delivered a day apart. When Chris Christie endorsed Trump, reporters dug up statements critical of Trump made by Christie just a few weeks prior to the endorsement. Here, we're talking about a 24-hour turnaround.
To Carson's credit, he gets Trump's fundamental appeal correctly in both cases. In his piece for the Washington Post, Carson writes that Trump is "the personification of vented frustration." And in his endorsement, he says Trump is "the voice of the people to be heard." Carson sees what we've all seen since the early days of Trump's candidacy: Trump's appeal is ultimately populist in nature.
But Carson's other statements don't go together so neatly.
In his endorsement speech, Carson calls Trump "cerebral," suggesting he "sits there and considers things very carefully."
Yet in the op-ed, Carson characterizes Trump as inconsistent, both "on the issues" as well as "in the rhetoric he uses."
If Trump is so cerebral, if he's a man who goes to such great lengths to get things right that it leads him to spend a considerable amount of time in thoughtful, private reflection, then why does he end up contradicting himself so often?
Perhaps Carson does not mean to say Trump is inconsistent but rather that he's ideologically flexible. He thinks Trump possesses the ability to listen and embrace new information. In his endorsement, Carson bemoans that "some people have gotten the impression that Donald Trump is this person who is not malleable, who does not have the ability to listen, and to take information in and make wise decisions." Carson says that's just "not true."
But this portrait of Trump is unlike the one he painted on Thursday, when he called Trump "unpredictable" and suggested he is capable of going "off the deep end."
Carson's depiction of Trump as a pragmatist runs smack into Carson's depiction of Trump as "zany," "off the wall," and "unpredictable." It's understandable for Carson to try to cast Trump's utter lack of conviction as signaling a political virtue — it's not that Trump is inconsistent; it's that he's open to new ideas, new information! — but Carson was right on Thursday: Trump's behavior "has to give any candidate pause."
Earlier this election cycle, Carson managed to attract lots of support from the evangelical community. On Friday he endorsed a candidate that on Thursday he suggested could "go off the deep end and forget that the gospels are part of the Bible."
How strange for one of the race's most vocal advocates for reinvigorating the public square with a robust Christian commitment to enthusiastically endorse a candidate who, despite claiming to be a "strong Christian," might not recall that the Jesus narratives are part of the biblical record.
Carson's endorsement assures us that, in terms of his positions, Trump is "cerebral" enough to "take information in and make wise decisions." But just a day prior, Carson had a funny way of characterizing Trump's cerebral approach, suggesting Trump is "unpredictable" enough to go after "free-market principles, the sanctity of life, the rule of law, or taxing and spending discipline."
In that article, Carson wrote that Trump has "waffled" on "Planned Parenthood and other issues." Maybe what on Thursday seems inconsistent and unpredictable appears wise and cerebral on Friday.
Or maybe Ben Carson's attack on Ben Carson's decision shows he's just like the one he is endorsing.