Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson looked out of his league during Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas as he attempted to integrate his medical background into serious questions on foreign policy and national security.
Carson used several medical-inspired metaphors to describe how he would handle ISIS, calling the terrorist organization a cancer that the United States needed to “excise.” He also likened America to a patient “in critical condition.”
Asked whether he would be willing to order airstrikes in the Middle East to take out ISIS, even though they would likely kill thousands of innocent children, Carson argued that his experience as a pediatric neurosurgeon made him more prepared – not less – for such action.
“You should see the eyes of some of those children when I say to them, ‘We are going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor.’ They’re not happy about it, and they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me,” Carson said.
“And by the same token,” he continued, “you have to be able to look at the big picture, and understand that it’s actually merciful if you go ahead and finish the job, rather death by a thousand pricks.”
One of the debate moderators, Hugh Hewitt, pressed him further, asking Carson to clarify whether he’d be “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?”
Carson, apparently referencing the audience’s loud booing, replied: “You got it.”
The impulse to work in his professional history is clear. Not only is it the only experience he has to go on, but Carson is also, after all, a world-renowned doctor – the cherry on top of an impressive biography that helped catapult him to the front of the Republican presidential pack earlier this year. Once the conversation started to shift away from his backstory to policy prescriptions, however, he began to stumble. At the FOX Business Network debate last month, for example, Carson incorrectly suggested that China was involved in the Syrian conflict.
Carson did little to turn things around on Tuesday, the final Republican debate of the year. When asked if he would support dictators in the Middle East, rather than democratic systems, Carson constructed a clumsy analogy about airplane oxygen masks.
“No one is ever better off with dictators, but there comes a time when you’re on an airplane, they always say, ‘In case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down. Put yours on first and then administer help to your neighbor.’ We need oxygen right now,” Carson said.
Asked directly about what experience he had that made him qualified to be commander-in-chief, Carson pointed to a national scholarship program he organized.
“One of the things that you’ll notice if you look through my life is that I don’t do a lot of talking,” Carson said. “I do a lot of doing.”