In one of his many books, Ben Carson boasted about meeting Gen. William Westmoreland in 1969, soon after the general ended his tenure in Vietnam. At the time, Carson was a Detroit high-school student and ROTC member, and in the book, he said he was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point after the meeting.
More recently, the claim has also been part of his pitch to voters. A month ago, the Republican presidential hopeful bragged to PBS's Charlie Rose about his ROTC service. "I was offered a full scholarship to West Point," Carson told the national television audience.
As it turns out, this did not happen. Politico has the scoop today.
Ben Carson’s campaign on Friday admitted, in a response to an inquiry from POLITICO, that a central point in his inspirational personal story was fabricated: his application and acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. [...]West Point, however, has no record of Carson applying, much less being extended admission.... When presented with these facts, Carson’s campaign conceded the story was false.
In an email to Politico, Carson's campaign manager said Carson had been "introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors," and they "told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC."
Apparently, in time, Carson equated this conversation into a "full scholarship" offer to the U.S. Military Academy.
The Politico piece added, "This admission comes as serious questions about other points of fact in Carson’s personal narrative are questioned, including the seminal episode in which he claimed to have attempted to stab a close friend."
As this relates to the retired neurosurgeon's presidential ambitions, the question is obvious: just how damaging is a revelation like this going to be?
The answer is obviously speculative -- we'll find out soon enough -- though it's worth noting that Carson managed to rise to the top of Republican presidential polling despite saying ridiculous things on a nearly daily basis. There's no tangible evidence that GOP voters mind at all when Carson makes claims with no connection to reality.
But this morning, there's reason to think conservatives see a qualitative difference between Carson's bizarre beliefs about, say, Egyptian pyramids, and repeating a bogus story about West Point.
Media Matters pulled together a sampling of reactions from media figures on the right who seemed rather alarmed by today's revelations. Erick Erickson, for example, called this "the beginning of Ben Carson's end"; Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich described the news as "very bad"; and Breitbart News' John Nolte wrote on Twitter, "If this is true, Carson is done."
I don't have a sense of whether any of those conservative pundits have an ulterior motive -- maybe they're supporting Carson rivals in the GOP race? -- but if their reactions are emblematic of Republicans in general, the effects of this story will be highly consequential.
Update: At a certain level, this story doesn't appear to offer much in the way of wiggle room -- Carson said he was "offered a full scholarship to West Point"; he wasn't offered a full scholarship to West Point; the end. But the Washington Post's Dave Weigel reports that Carson's defense is taking shape: the "offer" he received was "informal."
"Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me [could] get a scholarship to West Point," Carson told the New York Times. "It was, you know, an informal ‘with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.'"