In the race for the GOP nod, Donald Trump is the clear leader in campaign rhetoric revisionism. The best example of this is perhaps the Carly Fiorina “face” comment that he later-revised to be about Fiorina’s “persona.” Trump has also shown adeptness at following up a negative, gross generalization with a specific statement apparently meant to make amends to those he wronged. I’m talking about the “I cherish women” statement after his myriad negative comments about women in media, politics, and business, and the “I have friends that are Muslims. They’re great people, amazing people” after he let lie an assertion from a supporter that Muslims are “a problem in this country” and that President Obama is one.
Enter Dr. Ben Carson, who told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s Meet the Press that “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this Nation. I absolutely would not,” and going on to say that (in violation of the text of the Constitution) the President’s faith should be “consistent with the Constitution.” Following Trump’s first lesson, Dr. Carson then backtracked on Facebook, saying “know this, I meant exactly what I said. I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.” Following Trump’s second lesson, Carson’s campaign manager Barry Bennet told Igor Bobic of the Huffington Post that during his 39-year tenure at Johns Hopkins, Carson had “trained a lot of doctors who are Muslim. He’s getting a lot of positive feedback from them.”
It could be that these are simply signs of political inexperience. Worn and weary pols know all too well the importance of being prepared with more than talking points. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson made a similar observation yesterday about Scott Walker: on the campaign trail with him for five months, she saw him take positions he didn’t mean to take when pressed by journalists for specifics beyond his talking points. This, she said, led to the appearance that he lacked “clear stances on a number of issues.” One candidate who seems to be doing well in the fallout from gaffes is Ted Cruz. He easily responded to questions about Carson’s remarks with a clear articulation of the Constitution’s prohibition of a religious test for political office. He responded to questions related to Obama’s religion by saying that it was between the man and his god. Unlike Trump and Carson, perhaps, Cruz is playing the long game, knowing that Republicans alone cannot elect the President.