Dr. Ben Carson did more than a dozen interviews across major television networks, radio, and print outlets this week, opening himself up for the kind of non-stop media scrutiny the Republican presidential candidate has shied away from during much of his campaign for president, while stirring up to the very kind of controversy – and Hitler references – that characterized his rise to political prominence two years ago.
The full-court press is ostensibly part of a book tour for his detailed campaign platform published on Tuesday, titled “A More Perfect Union: What We The People Can Do To Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.” It comes at a time when the presidential contender is polling in second, bested only by Donald Trump, the candidate who has dominated the media cycle for months by appearing on national television almost every day all summer.
Carson’s biggest recent headline-maker was his argument that gun control enabled the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
“The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” Carson told Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Thursday; he doubled down on the idea on MSNBC on Friday.
The Anti-Defamation League swatted the idea down: “[G]un control did not cause the Holocaust; Nazism and anti-Semitism did.”
While his campaign has thus-far focused largely on social media outreach and dogged early-state campaigning and advertising, this kind of media exposure, inflammatory remarks, and polarizing historical references is exactly what brought Carson a conservative following in the first place. When Carson’s argued that, for instance, Obamacare was the worst thing since slavery, or that America under the Obama administration's leadership bears similarities to Nazi Germany, it helped turn him into a conservative darling.
Carson’s far-right stance on gun control was front page news the week. On Tuesday, he said he’d be more comfortable if kindergarten teachers were trained and armed in the classroom; on Wednesday, he said he’d have fought off the gunmen in a mass shooting situation like the one at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which left 10 dead and another nine injured. He stuck these statements on Thursday, saying he hoped people remembered his encouragement to fight in future mass shootings.
Some of his interviews were perplexing: at one point, he told reporters he’d actually been held at gunpoint but that he "redirected" the gunman; when reporters pointed to his interviews a day prior saying he’d fight off gunmen, he said it was different because his own brush with death was a hold-up.
Still other statements Carson gave were just plain muddled, like when he appeared to mix up the debt ceiling and budgetary spending during his interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Friday.
“I’m not going sign anything that in any way increases our obligations,” he said when asked how he’d handle the financial showdown Congress is heading into this fall. In recent years, Republicans have used the threat of a government default to try to force big budget cuts, a tactic Carson appeared to endorse. But he also suggested that if he were president, he would have prevented a debt ceiling fight entirely.
“If I was president, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said. “I would have – long before we got to this stage – been looking at that and looking at other things because we always end up in the same situation. Your back’s against the wall, you got to do it right now or we’re going to die, you know – you know, it’s the same crap every year. Why do we keep doing it?”
But interest in Carson (and his polling) seems to keep skyrocketing as he gains more exposure – and as he continues to speak out boldly. According to Google Trends, interest in Carson spiked during both presidential debates and the last time he gave a slew of interviews, including one in which he said he wouldn’t support a Muslim president in late September. And over the last week as the candidate has upped his media presence even more (including an appearance on Charlie Rose's talk show Saturday and an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" coming this Sunday), searches for him have also increased.