Ben Carson refuses to be muzzled.
Republican presidential hopeful Carson told The Hill in a Monday interview that he has no intention of reining in his rhetoric, despite having attracted weeks of sensational headlines for remarks on everything from guns to religion to the Holocaust.
“I want people to see me as an honest person, a person who is actually willing to express what they believe” Carson said. “The way I look at it, if people don’t like that, I’d rather not be in office. I don’t want to be in office under false pretenses, just saying things people want to hear so I can get elected.”
Now, the ferocity of Carson’s message is the point.
“He’s been unleashed and he’s found the fire in his belly and he’s not backing down,” said Armstrong Williams, Carson’s longtime business partner and confidant. “Over the last two weeks, you’re seeing a candidate evolve into his own comfort level, his own brand of leadership. ... This kind of leadership is not always popular with everyone.”
Carson’s recent run of straight talk began last month on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Anchor Chuck Todd had been asking all of the Republican presidential candidates whether they’d be comfortable with a Muslim president, but only Carson made news, saying that a Muslim should not be commander in chief.
Carson later backed off those comments, saying that he’d be comfortable with a Muslim president if that person rejected the tenets of Sharia law and pointing out that he also said that he wouldn’t be comfortable with a religious zealot of any faith running the country.
Then, following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the media swarmed on Carson’s declaration that had he been there, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” and instead would have stood up to the gunman. Many interpreted the remarks as blaming the victims.
Carson later called for arming officials on school grounds, said that he “never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away,” and insisted that the Holocaust might have been avoided if the Jews in Germany had been armed.
Carson has refused to temper any of his remarks on guns.
“I am not making inflammatory comments, although the media will try and turn it into inflammatory comments, but nothing that I’ve said is an inflammatory comment and that’s not the way that people see it,” Carson said.
Carson views his unvarnished riffs and willingness to give unflinching takes on any topic thrown his way as a key ingredient to his recent run of success.
“Yesterday in Tennessee I did a book signing in Knoxville and there were thousands of people there ... standing in line for three or four hours for two seconds [with me],” Carson said. “The message they’re all saying is, ‘Don’t stop. Don’t give in to the left-wing media. Go ahead and be yourself and talk about what we the people want to hear about.’”
It has worked so far: Carson is excelling in every measurable aspect of the presidential race.
The former neurosurgeon has been on an upward trajectory in the polls for almost two months now. He and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense: Pentagon hails Fallujah's recapture | Texts to VA suicide hotline went unanswered Overnight Energy: U.S., Mexico, Canada to team up on clean energy The Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice MORE are alone in the top tier of candidates, with huge leads over experienced politicians like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice Abortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate US, Mexico have mutual ambassadors for first time in over a year MORE (R-Fla.).
According to a CBS News poll released over the weekend, Trump leads with 27 percent support, followed by Carson at 21 percent. The next closest candidate is Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzOvernight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Kasich doesn't expect to speak at convention Anti-Trump leaders sending 'advance team' to Cleveland: report MORE (R-Texas), who is in third place at 9 percent support.
Carson raised a staggering $20 million in the third quarter, which will likely put him millions of dollars ahead of the next closest contender. Cruz raised $12 million in the same quarter, and Bush is expected to post a number in that neighborhood as well.
And Carson is one of the few candidates who can routinely draw thousands of supporters at campaign events.
That success has earned Carson more press, and ensures that every statement he makes will be closely scrutinized.
It’s a reality that has frustrated Carson, who believes the media possesses a deep liberal bias and is out to get him.
On Friday, Carson lashed out at the press on their home turf, at the National Press Club in Washington, calling the news media “embarrassing” and vowing to “expose” its biases.
It’s an easy target for Carson. The media is reviled in conservative circles and Carson’s crusade could further raise his profile and endear him to a base that will be eager to defend him.
“We need the media to develop a conscience and start working for the people and stop having their own ideological agenda,” Carson said on Monday.
“I hope I didn’t give the impression that they’re all bad, but there’s a substantial majority that have an agenda,” he continued. “I’m still hopeful that the media will come to their senses ... and step up to the plate with some real integrity. I haven’t given up on them. If I had, I wouldn’t say anything about them. It’s just like a child that you want to correct. If you don’t say anything, they become unruly.”
Still, even Carson’s campaign manager, Barry Bennett, has expressed concern with his propensity to draw on the Holocaust to make political points.
“It’s an example [Carson] has been using for years and to be honest with you he needs to find a better example because the problem is as soon as you say Hitler, nobody hears anything else you say,” Bennett told ABC News earlier this month.
When read those remarks, Carson told The Hill that “no two people agree 100 percent on everything,” while seeming to relish the heartburn the analogy stirs in the press.
“When I say that most people in Nazi Germany did not agree with Hitler but they kept their mouths shut, and when good people do nothing evil prevails, the fact that some people can’t understand that because somewhere in the sentence is the word ‘Hitler’ or ‘Nazi,” that says something about them, that doesn’t say something about me,” Carson said.
“We need to mature beyond that level,” he continued. “If you submit to that level of immaturity what are you doing to your society? What we need to do is grow our society into a level of maturity that they can understand principles that are being stated, rather than focus on a word and not be able to hear anything else. I think that’s the height of immaturity.”
That’s the kind of unapologetic style Carson says his supporters can expect going forward, and that the press should get used to.
“Even though I tend to be soft-spoken I’ve never been a shy, retiring flower,” he said. “The purpose [behind what I say] is to help move our country in the right direction and save the country for the next generation. That’s what I’m talking about. And I need people to be behind that in order to accomplish that, so I have to tell the truth.
“If they agree with me, and it resonates and we’re all moving in the same direction, that’s the kind of synergy that will save our nation.”