Dr. Ben Carson, left, stands with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump outside Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., after a pess conference Friday. | AP Photo
“There are two Donald Trumps,” Ben Carson mused on Friday as he gave his former adversary his blessing — the pugilistic showman on stage, and the “cerebral” man behind the curtain.
Carson implied that Trump would be acting more presidential as he looked toward the general election. But he might as well have been talking about the Donald Trump who savaged him as a psychopath and a child molester in November, and the Donald Trump who hailed his newest backer as a “special man” on Friday.
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The two men had “buried the hatchet” after a bruising primary, Carson insisted. But some of the attacks Trump leveled at the mild-mannered ex-surgeon are going to be hard to forget:
The way they were
While Trump made good on his vow earlier in the campaign not to attack Carson — or anyone — unless they went after him first, once the retired neurosurgeon cast doubt on the Manhattan real-estate developer’s religious convictions, the gloves came off. And they largely stayed off until Carson’s campaign, beset by infighting and sinking in the polls, began to drop off Trump’s radar as he gained momentum on his ascent toward the nomination.
The story of Trump’s back-and-forth rapport with Carson began in February 2013, when the retiring Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon delivered remarks blasting President Barack Obama at the annual National Prayer Breakfast with the president himself in attendance. On Feb. 12 of that year, Trump tweeted a quote from Carson, “Successful people don’t have fewer problems.They have determined that nothing will stop them from going forward.”
A year and a half later, Trump was retweeting someone who had written, “Donald Trump & Ben Carson 2016,” adding “Wow!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2014
In May 2015, a week after Carson launched his campaign and a month before he would announce his own, Trump retweeted another account suggesting Carson as Trump’s successor in the White House.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2015
Trump’s first counterpunch
But as Carson began to rise in the polls, media speculation that Trump might start hammering him increased. In an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in early September, Trump remarked of a potential confrontation, “I’m hoping for Ben to really hit me at some point, because I love to counterpunch.”
He got that chance just days later, when Carson was asked at an event in California to name the biggest difference between himself and Trump. “I’ve realized where my success has come from and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God,” Carson remarked, prompting an angry Trump response.
“Wow, I am ahead of the field with Evangelicals (am so proud of this) and virtually every other group, and Ben Carson just took a swipe at me,” he tweeted on Sept. 9.
Makes Jeb Bush ‘look like the Energizer Bunny’
The next morning, Trump went on CNN to further trash Carson, calling the neurosurgeon who was the first to separate conjoined twins at the head “perhaps an OK doctor” who made “low-energy” Jeb Bush “look like the Energizer Bunny” by comparison.
“But for him to criticize me on my faith is absolutely — and for him to read from the Bible in his memory — it looked like he had memorized it about two minutes before he went on stage,” Trump said, referring to Carson’s quoting of Scripture, before prophetically adding, “Ben Carson is not going to be your next president, that I can tell you.”
But less than a month later, Trump was back to defending Carson after the candidate faced blowback for expressing what he would have done in the case of a mass shooting incident at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me, I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,'” Carson had said.
“Ben Carson was speaking in general terms as to what he would do if confronted with a gunman, and was not criticizing the victims. Not fair!” Trump tweeted Oct. 7.
When Carson began to rise in the polls and even overtake him by the end of October, Trump was back to hitting Carson for being “weak” on illegal immigration, Medicare and for holding events for his book tour during the campaign. “Ben Carson has never created a job in his life (well, maybe a nurse). I have created tens of thousands of jobs, it’s what I do,” he tweeted Oct. 25.
Then came November.
‘WOW, one of many lies’
A spate of media reports, including from POLITICO, dug into parts of Carson’s biographical claims and past statements.
“WOW, one of many lies by Ben Carson! Big story,” Trump said in sharing POLITICO’s Nov. 6 report that Carson claimed to have received a West Point scholarship that did not exist. (Carson strongly disputed that report, in one of the few instances of the candidate ever losing his temper with the media.)
BuzzFeed News unearthed a clip of Carson delivering a commencement speech in 1998 in which he declared his religious belief that Egyptians built the pyramids to store grain and not to store the tombs of pharaohs. CNN reported on inconsistencies between Carson’s claims of violent behavior as an adolescent in his bestselling autobiography “Gifted Hands” and interviews with neighbors who did not recall any such incidents, including one in which Carson said he tried to stab a classmate, only to be thwarted by a belt buckle.
‘How stupid are the people of Iowa to believe this crap?’
Trump mocked that episode during a nine-minute rant in Iowa on Nov. 12, attempting to recreate the event by demonstrating its improbability.
“It moves this way, it moves that way!” Trump said as gyrated his hips wildly. “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
Trump also compared Carson’s claims of “pathological anger” to that of a child molester.
Carson brushed it off. “Now that he’s completed his gratuitous attack, why don’t we press on and deal with the real issues?” Carson told reporters the following day.
A week later, after The New York Times ran a story on Carson’s foreign policy struggles, Trump tweeted, “Ben Carson is being severely criticized for being incapable of understanding foreign policy by one of his top consultants. Not good!”
That article — and the renewed focus on terrorism after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. — buried Carson. And as he began to drop in the polls, Trump turned his fire elsewhere. Carson never recovered.
The Trump turns
On the night of the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, when the Cruz campaign disseminated a CNN report about Carson merely returning home to Florida to fetch fresh clothing as him dropping out of the race, Trump began to more sharply defend Carson, who by that time had ceased to be a serious threat to Trump’s electoral chances. Hugging Carson served Trump’s interest in his battle with Cruz, who he began accusing of cheating, calling him “Lying Ted.”
By mid-February, while Carson said that Trump is a “politician,” his criticism had become mild as milk. “If they prefer something more boisterous and something that sometimes doesn’t fit into the traditional definition of evangelical, that’s up to them,” Carson said in South Carolina.
And as for Trump’s litany of harsh, demeaning attacks? By Friday, Carson had turned the other cheek.
“That was political stuff. And, you know, that happens in American politics, the politics of personal destruction,” Carson said at Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort. “All that is not something that I particularly believe in or anything that I get involved in. But I do recognize that it is a part of the process. We move on, because it’s not about me, it’s not about Mr. Trump. It’s about America.”
Trump, speaking of the numerous volleys he launched Carson’s way, offered this backhanded compliment: “I was very impressed with the way he fought back with strength and silence.”