Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson bows his head in prayer before speaking at a town hall meeting, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa.
Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP

Carson runs into the ‘learning curve’ again

Not long after launching his bid for the nation’s highest office, Ben Carson conceded he has limited knowledge about government and public policy. The Republican candidate, perhaps embarrassed by the scope of his ignorance, went so far as to acknowledge that the “learning curve of a candidate” can be daunting.
That was in March. Carson’s “learning curve” problem isn’t going away.
Most of the time, when the retired right-wing neurosurgeon makes headlines, it’s because Carson has said something offensive – about the victims of mass-shootings, religious minorities he doesn’t like, “highfalutin scientists,” etc. But there’s an entire other category of rhetorical missteps covering instances in which Carson has no idea what he’s talking about in areas of public policy.
Yesterday, for example, the GOP candidate spoke with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal, who asked Carson about the looming crisis surrounding the debt ceiling – an issue that’s been in the news on several occasions over the last four years.
Ryssdal: As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, “We’re gonna run out of money, we’re gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November.” Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?
Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.
Ryssdal: To be clear, it’s increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You’d let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.
Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, “Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we’re not raising any spending limits, period.”
Ryssdal, to his credit, kept trying to clarify what the federal debt limit is. Carson kept giving answers that could charitably be described as gibberish.
It seemed painfully clear that Ben Carson doesn’t have the foggiest idea what the debt ceiling is – and he didn’t know how to fake his way through the interview.
Eventually, the host, slightly exasperated, asked, “I’m really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you’re not gonna raise the debt limit and you’re not gonna give specifics on what you’re gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as president of the United States?”
The Republican candidate gave a long, rambling answer about something he describes as the “fiscal gap,” after which Ryssdal gave up and moved on to other topics. No one can blame him; he tried valiantly to get a decent answer, but Carson couldn’t offer one.
For the record, my suspicion is that Carson isn’t the only Republican presidential hopeful who has no idea what the debt ceiling is. He’s also not alone in having bold opinions about subjects he knows nothing about. Heck, in recent years, an alarming number of GOP lawmakers – whose job it is to raise the debt limit – have made clear they don’t know what it is, either.
Carson, however, is running for president of the United States. Polls show him in the top tier among Republican candidates. One of these days, it might benefit his candidacy to brush up on the basics.