Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon poised to seek the Republican presidential nomination, appeared not to realize Wednesday that the Baltic states are members of the NATO alliance. He also claimed that the rage being expressed by radical Islamist groups dates back to Old Testament days. Those were among several odd answers from the first-time candidate as he defended his lack of foreign policy chops during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator who will moderate a GOP presidential debate later this year.
By all appearances, Ben Carson, a retired right-wing neurosurgeon, wants to be treated like a legitimate, competitive candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He has an exploratory committee; he's raising money; he's hiring staff; and he's engaging the media, just like his GOP rivals.
But giving the appearance of a presidential candidate isn't quite enough. If Carson, who's actually quite competitive in many recent polls, wants to be seen as a viable presidential contender, he can't crumble when treated like an actual candidate.
As the Politico report noted, Hewitt asked a perfectly fair question: does Carson believe the United States should be prepared to go to war if Russia encroaches on Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania -- the way Putin entered Ukraine.
The unannounced candidate said the U.S. must "convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO."
It fell to Hewitt to remind Carson that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are already in NATO.
In the same interview, Carson said he's been reading up on violent radicals in the Middle East and he's concluded that people "have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years, really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau."
When Hewitt noted that Islam didn't exist at the time of the Old Testament, Carson again seemed confused. "I'm just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years," he said. "This is not anything new, is what I'm saying."
This, of course, isn't quite right, either.
Eventually, the Republican candidate conceded "there's a lot of material to learn," but insisted that "we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you."
It's an unsatisfying answer because it seems as if Carson wants to be graded on a curve. None of the questions Hewitt asked were unreasonable or "gotcha" inquiries intended to embarrass his guest. They were just the kind of questions presidential candidates get asked.
Carson has never held or sought elected office, and he apparently has limited interest in "little details." He may be able to get away with this in these early stages, and it's entirely possible Republican primary voters won't care.
But if Carson's serious about the process, he'll need to start learning some of these "little details" quite soon.