Of the 13 Republicans who’d already quit the presidential race this year, only one, Chris Christie, supported GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. That changed this morning, when Ben Carson endorsed Trump at a press conference at a Trump-owned resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Carson laid out why he is endorsing Trump: There is “a lot more alignment … spiritually that I ever would have thought.”“There are two different Donald Trumps. The one you see on the stage and the one who is very cerebral,” Carson added. “That’s the Donald Trump you’re going to start seeing someone right now.”
The retired far-right neurosurgeon added on Twitter this morning that Trump is “a leader with an outsider’s perspective & the vision, guts & energy to get it done.”
For his part, the GOP frontrunner said Carson will play a “big, big part” in the campaign, but he didn’t elaborate on what that role may be.
As recently as November, it was hard to imagine such praise and support. At the time, Carson still looked like a competitive presidential contender who was in position to possibly win the Iowa caucuses. In a very memorable speech, Trump appeared in the Hawkeye State and compared Carson’s self-described “pathological temper” to a “disease” like child molestation (“If you’re a child molester, a sick puppy, a child molester, there’s no cure for that – there’s only one cure and we don’t want to talk about that cure, that’s the ultimate cure, no there’s two, there’s death and the other thing.”)
At the same event, Trump acted out a scene in which Carson claims to have tried to stab someone as a teenager. “If I did the stuff [Carson] said he did, I wouldn’t be here right now. It would have been over. It would have been over. It would have been totally over,” Trump said of his rival. “And that’s who’s in second place. And I don’t get it.”
Referring to Carson’s more incredible claims, Trump added, “How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?”
Around the same time, on Twitter, Trump wrote, “With Ben Carson wanting to hit his mother on head with a hammer, stab a friend and Pyramids built for grain storage - don’t people get it?”
Four months later, all of this is apparently water under the bridge.
It’s hard to say how many votes Carson’s endorsement will move – he already quit the race last week – but the retired doctor maintained strong evangelical support throughout the race, so today’s announcement certainly won’t hurt Trump’s efforts to shore up backing from social conservatives.
What’s interesting about the news for me, however, is who Carson didn’t support. When his standing faltered in the fall, the bulk of Carson’s backers quickly transitioned to Ted Cruz. Watching the polls in November and December, it was amazing to see Carson fall and Cruz rise in almost equal proportion – because they appealed to similar Republican constituencies with related messages.
So why didn’t Carson back Cruz now? Probably because Carson, like so many others in the GOP, appears to hate Cruz on a rather personal level – a contempt fueled in part by a Caucus Day controversy in Iowa.
Carson probably didn’t care for Trump’s criticisms in November, but from the doctor’s perspective, at least Trump didn’t try a “dirty trick” that cost him actual votes.