If I had to do it over again, I would have rescinded the invitation to Donald Trump again. It was the right thing to do. I am more sure that it was the right thing to do by the response of many Trump supporters to highlight all the terrible things I’ve said in my career. Those don’t mean Trump should have been given a pass. They mean both he and I are called to account for our sins and only one of us was willing to apologize and admit we’d done wrong.
But the one I got wrong was Ben Carson. To understand why I got it wrong, you should know first the full reasoning for my decision to consider him a flash in the pan and not a serious candidate.
It started a while back when a number of ScamPACs started fundraising off his name. They were preying on senior citizens who were drawn to the emotional appeal of Carson. In fact, a number of these groups did nothing but make outside consultants very wealthy. Carson, I guess flattered by the attention, did not publicly say anything. That bothered me as someone who has long been critical of these shadowy outside groups scamming people out of money.
So my impression was already set for two separate encounters involving Carson. One was in Atlanta and the other in Washington. Carson, at the Atlanta one, was supposed to honor wounded veterans at a non-profit event. Instead, he turned the speech into a speech about himself and his fight with the President, giving only the end of the speech to veterans. I thought it inappropriate that he turned a non-profit, non-partisan, non-political speech on veterans into something on himself. Had it just been me, I’d have figured it was just my impression from the scam PAC issue. But everyone at my table thought the same thing. This repeated itself in DC later.
All of this ratified in my mind that Carson was loving the attention and was not a serious candidate. The emotional appeal of his beef with Obama had connected with voters and they did not care about Carson on the issues, they just liked that he was willing to fight when no one else would.
And I was wrong. I see now that what I’d interpreted from his speeches I had seen was more a new candidate finding his footing than a shallow salesman taking advantage of people. He needed help getting in the game and he clearly found it. I am glad to be wrong about him.
Thursday night on that debate stage in Cleveland I realized my impressions of Carson were off. He was and is a legitimate contender. His closing at the debate was one of the best closings I’ve seen in a debate. He did not have the depth as some of the others on the issues, but showed he has been spending his time learning.
Above all, he was humorous, respectful, and showed a real good nature. And I know, based on all the incoming polling, that I was not the only one to take a second look at Ben Carson. It seems a great many people realized Ben Carson is a legitimate candidate for President.
There is one more thing you should know, though.
It wasn’t just Carson’s performance.
Since Saturday, my inbox at RedState, voicemail, and social media accounts have been filled up with some of the most vile and abusive emails I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot. They are from people outraged by my decision about Trump.
But I’ve also gotten a healthy dose of emails from people upset I did not invite Ben Carson to the RedState Gathering. These emails, tweets, and Facebook comments have overwhelmingly been polite. They disagree, were disappointed, and moved on.
Certainly there are some really angry, vile ones. But by and large, the reaction about Carson was 80% respectful and the reaction about Trump was 80% expletive filled rage.
Ben Carson has some great grassroots ambassadors and he should be proud. His performance on the stage coupled with his own supporters’ engagement with me has led me to the conclusion I got him wrong and I am having to take another look at him and his campaign.