Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. He got his start in journalism as the chief political editor for the Minnetonka Bugle.
No one likes mass shootings. For one, they hijack the 24-hour news cycle and cause political experts to get pre-empted. Also, the massive loss of life and implicit feeling of inevitability surrounding them are no good. But if you’re Dr. Ben Carson, they can be especially no good.
After climbing in the polls all September, Carson’s campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination finally stumbled when the candidate committed a major gaffe last week in the wake of the Umpqua College shooting that killed nine. A few days after the tragedy, the famed neurosurgeon went on Fox and Friends and said, “I would not just stand there and let [the shooter armed with five handguns] shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.'” Bang.
The political outsider’s latest flub, asserting that he’d stop an active shooter in such a crisis, is flat-out insensitive. What Carson fails to realize is that to the hardcore pro-gun Republican electorate, stopping a spree killer mid-massacre is a major infringement on their Second Amendment rights. Organizing a mob to bum-rush an active killer exercising his Constitutionally-protected privilege to discharge firearms is a huge no-no for a GOP candidate jockeying to win the all-important NRA endorsement.
What’s more, instead of apologizing for using language more fitting in a Michael Bloomberg speech, Dr. Carson doubled down on his offensive remarks, telling ABC News, “I would ask everybody to attack the gunman because he can only shoot one of us at a time.” He’s only allowed to shoot one at a time, Doctor? Try telling that to the 3 million owners of AR-15 semi-automatic rifles that can fire off 900 hollow point bullets per minute using legal modifications. While you’re at it, see if they’ll want to put your campaign sign in their front yard after hearing you flub these basic tactical weapon specs that all Republican candidates should know by heart this late in the game.
In a failed attempt at damage control, Carson tried to go personal, telling an internet radio host that, “I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeyes… [A] guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.'” There are two huge things wrong with this. First, the GOP base prefers Chik fil A, not Popeye’s, for their chicken and biscuit needs. Second, most Republicans will never support a candidate who is so reckless he would go to a fast food restaurant unarmed. These voters expect their politicians to be packing heat at all times — like they, themselves, do — especially in potential threat zones such as chain restaurants, Walmarts, and middle schools. A Republican candidate who isn’t concealed-carrying, at minimum, a TEC-9 semi-automatic with the safety off is someone who has lost control of their campaign. Carson might as well be running for the Green Party nomination.
I’m starting to think the brain surgeon needs his head examined. Carson may be a favorite of former Tea Party supporters, but he needs to spend less time on Washington’s Spin Street and get back to Middle America’s Main Street if he thinks this attitude will fly. If I were Carson’s media director, I’d get him in front of this issue right now. Maybe release a statement on how the good doctor admires the freedom of choice offered by recent shooters like Elliot Rodgers and James Holmes. To connect with older voters, reference Charles Joseph Whitman.
On the battlefield of politics, candidates live and die by mistakes without the luxury of foxholes to retreat into. Ben Carson threw a grenade with his comments. He has the chance to kick it down towards the enemy. Time will tell if he’s a Private Ryan worth saving.