Last week, Dr. Ben Carson unexpectedly put Mobile in the national spotlight again after using a clumsy but harmless metaphor in which he compared some of the hypothetical refugees coming to the United States from Syria to a “rabid dog” at a press gathering at St. Paul’s Episcopal.
In an effort to explain his position on the Syrian refugee situation — which is in line with mainstream conservative Republican opinion — Carson likened allowing these refugees into the U.S. to protecting one’s children from a rabid dog:
“If there’s a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably going to put your children out of the way. It doesn’t mean you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination, but you’re putting intellect into motion and thinking, ‘How do I protect my children?’”
And then the national media erupted.
Memo to politicians: Add Syrian refugees to America’s long list of protected groups.
And there were other taboo hijinks that followed. Somehow Donald Trump was interpreted as saying he wants a Muslim registry. Marco Rubio wants to shut down not just mosques that inspire terrorism, but other places of inspiration for terrorism.
The backlash ensued. Indeed, to the Washington, D.C., smart set, the religion of peace remains off-limits this presidential cycle.
(I shudder to think what the reaction would have been if the Clinton administration’s ATF siege on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 had been on a mosque instead.)
Perhaps it was the desperation of a news cycle hungry for presidential campaign news headed into the doldrums of the Thanksgiving holidays, but it’s hard to imagine any of this is moving the needle.
Trump still has the lead in most polls. Carson is second, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz on the charge.
We just crossed the 100-day mark until the March 1 “SEC Primary,” which will include not only Alabama but Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, the first of the traditionally Republican states — on the heels of South Carolina’s February primary — to vote in the 2016 presidential party nomination contest.
It’s still unclear who will come out ahead in these contests. In the previous presidential election cycles, Alabama bucked the national trend by awarding victories to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who were later defeated by John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively, for the GOP nomination.
At the time, Huckabee and Santorum were the non-establishment competition and lagging behind the establishment front-runners. This time, it’s the other way around, with so-called outsiders Trump and Carson out front, so the underdog model probably isn’t going to be as reliable this time.
With such a crowded field, the traditional attrition process of this contest is going to take a lot longer, and by the time the prelude March 1 “Super Tuesday” rolls around, if there are more than two or three candidates remaining, some of them on the GOP side could be feeling pretty desperate.
That’s when the real mudslinging likely will come, making stuff we’re seeing now with the parsing of words and invective-filled red-meat pandering seem like a tea party.
We saw it during the 2000 election in the South Carolina primary, when a whisper campaign tanked McCain’s candidacy with a rumor that his wife, Cindy, was a drug addict and that their adopted Bangladeshi daughter was a black child fathered by McCain out of wedlock.
It was rumored the smear was the product of the George W. Bush campaign. Bush would win the 2000 South Carolina contest, enough to slow the momentum of McCain’s 2000 presidential bid following the Arizona Republican’s New Hampshire primary victory earlier that year. Bush defeated then-Vice President Al Gore to win the presidency later in the year, and the rest is history.
Keep in mind, that fight between Bush and McCain in 2000 was with only Alan Keyes remaining in the field. Imagine what things could be like with four or five candidates, all believing they still have a legitimate shot after devoting hours upon hours of their lives and spending millions of dollars to get to that point.
It isn’t outside the realm of possibility for there to be more than two candidates still standing. In the early primaries prior to March 1 — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — there are 133 GOP delegates up for grabs. On March 1 itself, with primaries held in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming — there will be an estimated grand total of 624 delegates up for the taking.
If a candidate fares poorly and limps out of those four early primaries, theoretically they’re still in it, assuming they catch a hell of a tailwind and pull out even just a third of those delegates.
But it may require some unsavory tactics for a candidate to position himself or herself for that last-ditch effort, and Alabama voters will be in the thick of it. The current talk about who said what about what protected class or religion — it’s probably nothing compared to what will unfold in less than 100 days.