Viewpoints

Dana Milbank: Ben Carson’s higher power

WASHINGTON – God has blessed America with great bounty during the 2016 Republican presidential contest, and now, with debate finally turning to the long-neglected question of who built Egypt’s pyramids, our cup runneth over.

Ben Carson, the nominal front-runner, last week restated his claim that these wonders of the ancient world were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain. Historians call this lunacy. Archaeologists have evidence to refute it.

But maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to scoff at Carson’s claim. There is, after all, another possibility: Ben Carson is the Anointed One.

Among the chief proponents of this theory seems to be Carson himself. Hanging in the hallway of the retired neurosurgeon’s Maryland home is a portrait showing Jesus wrapping his arm around Carson. In the painting, Carson is larger than Jesus.

And so it may seem during these fine days in the charmed life of Ben Carson. The man has suffered a series of trials that would doom a mortal politician. In Tuesday night’s debate, he bungled a question about foreign policy (he seems to think China is fighting in Syria, and he talked about making the Islamic State “look like losers”). Last week he was flummoxed about immigration. Reports have raised doubts about his biographical claims that he once stabbed a friend and about the way he described being “offered a full scholarship” to West Point, though he never applied.

Yet Carson remains atop the polls, with Iowa leading the way. Why? Look at his appearance Wednesday morning at Liberty University in Virginia.

Carson, onstage for a convocation, bowed his head while David Nasser, senior vice president for spiritual development at the Christian school, prayed for the candidate. “Thank you, Lord, for a man who understands that leadership begins at the feet of Jesus. Thank you, Father, for this person that you’ve called out for such a time as this to be a voice of reason – to be, God, a testimony for you,” Nasser prayed. “Lord, if this is the leader that you’ve called for us, we pray that, Father, that it would be very clear to people, and … that there will be just crystal clarity, Father, for us as your people on how to serve, Father, your kingdom first and then be great citizens of this nation, whoever that leader is.”

God’s kingdom, then country: It’s very much the character of Carson’s campaign, and evangelicals are flocking to him the way they did to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. There aren’t enough of these voters to get Carson the presidency, nor probably the nomination. But Carson’s supporters won’t care what he says about the Islamic State, as long as he gives testimony about how God changed his life.

At Liberty, Carson spoke about doing poorly on medical-school exams and being told by the counselor that he wasn’t “cut out to be a doctor.” Carson said he prayed (“Lord, I always thought you wanted me to be a doctor”) and got an answer: He would stop attending “boring lectures” and would read instead.

He also told the students he gets “a lot of grief” for being a scientist who believes that God created Earth. And he closed by warning students not “to be intimidated by the secular progressives” who are “trying to push God out of our lives.”

It doesn’t matter whether Carson’s stories are true. He campaigns on his religious testimony, and evangelicals see him as one of them.

Asked about his flat-tax plan, he said, “The reason I liken it to tithing is because I believe that God is the fairest individual that there is, and if he thought it was fair I think it must be pretty fair.” Asked what advice he would give the students, he replied by quoting Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and … He will direct your path.”

After the candidate noted that he may be the only person other than Billy Graham to give the National Prayer Breakfast keynote twice and that people were “clamoring” for him to run for president, Nasser declared that “the one thing I think we all love and appreciate about you, sir, is your humility.”

Such humility inspired Carson to hang the portrait of him with Jesus – and to claim God’s endorsement Wednesday. “So many in the media want to bring me down because I represent something that they can’t stand,” he told the students. “But the fact of the matter is, in Romans Chapter 8 it says, if God be for you, who can be against you?’ ”

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.

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