WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Sunday that he’s facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny about the veracity of his life story and questioned whether the issues dogging him over his autobiography are important to the nation’s search for the next president.
“Every single day, every other day or every week, you know, they’re going to come out with, ‘Well, you said this when you were 13,'” the retired neurosurgeon said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“The whole point is to distract the populous, to distract me,” Carson added. “If you’ve got a real scandal, if you’ve got something that’s really important, let’s talk about that.”
Moving on, at least in the short term, is unlikely. The accuracy of Carson’s autobiography has dominated his campaign in the past few days, and there are likely to be more questions asked on Tuesday during the next GOP presidential debate. The scrutiny reflects Carson’s transformation from political outsider to the top of the polls in the unsettled nomination fight, second only to billionaire developer Donald Trump. And in early voting Iowa, some polls show Carson’s leading.
Trump on Sunday tried to keep the allegations alive.
On several news shows, he repeated examples from Carson’s autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” including Carson’s claim that he hit his mother and unsuccessfully tried to stab someone. Several times, Trump quoted Carson as describing his younger self as having a “pathological” temper – and then demurred on his own opinion of Carson’s character and veracity.
“I just don’t know. I mean, I’m not involved. I don’t really know,” Trump said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Carson insists no other candidate has received the level of scrutiny that he has. Asked on NBC whether he is getting more than President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Carson replied: “Not like this. Not even close.”
Scrutiny of his past is par for any major candidate for president, not only Carson. Obama’s citizenship was questioned and he later released a birth certificate showing that he was born in Hawaii. Clinton’s marital dalliances were probed during his 1992 campaign. The Miami Herald staked out then-Sen. Gary Hart’s townhouse in 1987 and caught him in an extramarital affair. Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, last month testified about the private email server she kept at her house and used for government business while she was secretary of state.
Carson is a newcomer to presidential politics, so much about his life, career and published works are being raked over for the first time, and his longtime status as an American success story examined. Carson strongly disputed that there was any dishonesty intended.
Gone Sunday was the anger he showed during a press conference on Friday, when the usually even-tempered Carson demanded that reporters explain why, in his opinion, Obama had not been subjected to the same scrutiny. “My job is to call you out when you’re unfair, and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said.
“Gifted Hands” is central to much of the scrutiny. It tells the story of Carson’s rise from a childhood in inner city Detroit to the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
In it, he tells of trying to stab a close friend when he was a teenager. CNN reported it could not find friends or confidants to corroborate that story.
Politico published a piece examining Carson’s claim of receiving a scholarship offer to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Wall Street Journal said it could not confirm Carson anecdotes from his high school and college years. The academy does not offer scholarships, instead extending all expenses paid to students it admits. Carson never applied for admission.
Last month, police in Baltimore said they didn’t have enough information to verify Carson’s account of being held at gunpoint more than 30 years ago at a fast-food restaurant in the city.
In the third GOP debate, Carson said it was “absolutely absurd” to say he had a formal relationship with the company Mannatech. He is featured in the company’s videos, including one from last year in which he credits the firm’s supplements with helping people restore a healthy diet.
Carson and his campaign forcefully reject any suggestion he has been less than completely truthful.