Endorsing Trump: Ben Carson's Fallacious Reasoning
Ben Carson shocked many of his supporters when he endorsed Donald Trump for president. The guy who was running a campaign on ethics and morality stabbed his admirers in the back. But don't worry, he had reasons.
Though Carson seemed like a nice guy, I never thought much of his candidacy because he didn't demonstrate that he was prepared for the demands of the presidency. He sounded naïve, and he often got his historical facts wrong. Now with his endorsement of Donald Trump, I can add poor reasoning skills to my list of criticisms. He's probably a good doctor, but he's proven himself to be a political simpleton. Let me analyze three of Carson's fallacious reasons for supporting Trump.
The first reason for supporting Trump: Carson said that "the people have spoken" and that if we ignore their voice we imperil our nation. He warned Republicans that if we do not unify behind Trump then our party will be ripped apart. America's in a dangerous place because political operatives are trying to thwart the will of the people.
Have "the people spoken"? Decidedly not. Trump has gained a plurality of the votes cast in primaries up to this point, but that doesn't mean that Republicans have embraced him. Carson should note that votes cast for "not Trump" candidates are actually the majority of votes cast. In a normal election cycle with a normal candidate, one could make the case that Trump's plurality should give him the edge, but this isn't a normal primary and Trump is not a normal candidate. A crowded Republican field made Trump's plurality possible because voters split over who should represent the party. One would expect the front-runner to gain in the polls as candidates dropped out of the race, but that hasn't happened for Trump. Actually we've seen the reverse. Every time a candidate drops out, the other "non Trump" candidates get bumps. RealClearPolitics polls show that Trump's support has remained in the mid thirties over the last three months in spite of the fact that eight candidates have left the race. Over the same time frame Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich have seen gains--substantial gains in the cases of Rubio and Kasich.
Trump is such a polarizing figure that it is a mistake for Carson to give his plurality much weight. The "non Trump" voters are a voting block. As candidates leave the race, their supporters coalesce around someone else who isn't Trump. If a voter hasn't been seduced to the Trump-side yet, it probably isn't going to happen. Trump has enjoyed a consistent plurality, but there's good reason to think that the majority of the people have spoken with their votes against Trump as representing the Republican Party in the general election.
The people haven't "spoken" as Carson suggests, but even if they have, who cares? Dr. Carson, if all your friends jump off a bridge, are you going to do it too? It's fallacious to think that the people are always right.
Trump's a demagogue, and Republicans haven't traditionally embraced demagogues--leaders who just tell the people whatever they want to hear. Leaders are leaders if they do exactly what a plurality of voters want them to. They're slaves to popular opinion.
In America we use some modified democratic processes to select the leaders who will run our country, but conservatives should be wary of the idea of vox populi vox Dei.
Leaders should lead, not follow the latest poll, and in the past Republicans have attempted to nominate men of vision and character. Sometimes the whims of the crowd are wrong, and sometimes a leader needs to tell the people that their fears are unjustified. Leaders do what they think is best for the country within the confines of the law, but demagogues do what a plurality of voters wish so they can garner applause and stay in power.
If Carson were right--which he's not--and "the people have spoken," that doesn't mean that the people are right. Donald Trump is not a man of vision and character. He's a short-sighted, self-interested demagogue who has demonstrated a lack of morality in both his business dealings and personal life. He might be rich, he might be entertaining, but he'd be a disaster as president.
The second reason for supporting Trump: Carson thinks that Trump can "break the stranglehold of special interest groups and the political class." Carson parrots the line that Trump isn't in the pockets of lobbyists because he's supposedly self-funding his campaign. Therefore, Trump can be trusted to speak the truth. This claim, like most things Trump says, is a half truth at best. Most of the money spent by Trump's campaign has merely been loaned to the campaign by Trump. Trump has the option to reverse course, take huge donations, and pay himself back at any time. He could have given the money to his campaign outright, but he didn't. However, even if Trump didn't spend a cent of anyone else's money (which he already has), it's a logical fallacy to claim that Trump speaks the truth because he's not in the pockets of special interests. A candidate can tell lies or be wrong whether or not he takes big donations.
Not taking money from special interests is actually a form of anti-intellectualism. Essentially Trump is saying that he's not going to align himself with anyone who's an expert on policy. Trump and Carson present special interest groups as a bad thing, but these are the people who spend their lives promoting a cause. Some of these causes are quite noble. Whether one agrees with a lobbyist or not, chances are they know a lot more about their issue than the average voter. Demagogues, like Trump, try to exploit the fear that someone somewhere might be smarter than you.
The issue isn't whether or not a candidate takes money from special interests. It's which special interests give money to a candidate. Not all special interests are alike. Does a candidate take money from Planned Parenthood? What about SEIU? If so, that tells us something important about that candidate. On the other hand, if a candidate is in the pockets of pro-life groups or organizations devoted to fiscal responsibility, is that such a bad thing? Perhaps voters should be wary of a candidate who doesn't take money from lobbyists. How can we know what the candidate stands for? One reason why Trump isn't getting cash from big-money donors is that they're not offering. Conservative groups aren't dumping cash into the Trump campaign because Trump doesn't align with traditional conservative values on economic policy or on social issues.
Instead of buying into the fallacious rhetoric of Carson and other Trump endorsers, voters ought to think about which special interests align with their values and then support the candidates that those lobbyists support.
The third reason for supporting Trump: Carson tells us that we need to unite the party to defeat Hillary Clinton. Carson isn't alone in saying that defeating Hillary in November is the most important thing, but Carson went so far as to say that Hillary was only two steps removed from the Devil himself. Carson asks if America can afford to be led by someone in league with Satan.
This beat-Hillary-at-all-costs rhetoric disturbs me. A Democratic victory in November would not be the worst possible thing to happen to this country. It would be much worse if the conservative movement abandoned its principles to win a single election. What would we then be left with?
We tell our children, "Winning isn't everything." We also tell them, "It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game." We try to cultivate in our children a sense of fair play and integrity. We recognize that even in war there are some things that just shouldn't be done. Americans believe in principles, and conservative Americans cherish certain core values and believe in traditions that are worth preserving.
And now it seems that Ben Carson wants us to throw it all away.
Would another Clinton presidency be worse than losing the soul of the conservative movement? I think not. Perhaps losing the 2016 election would actually be a boon to conservatism. After all, everyone knows that we learn more in defeat than we do in victory. Perhaps over the next eight years conservatives could develop a thoughtful and persuasive alternative to the insanity that currently passes for American political discourse.
I'd like for a conservative to win the presidency in 2016, but Trump is not a conservative, no matter what Carson says. He's not a conservative in either in the fiscal or social sense of the word. If my choice ends up being between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I will not vote for either. I'm not an idealist who must vote for the perfect candidate. I've voted for people whom I have been less than happy about supporting, but sometimes my conscience forbids me to vote for certain candidates. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.
I'm sure Ben Carson is a nice man, but he has fallen for Trump's empty sales pitch, and he offers us fallacious reasons to do the same. When people try to stop Trump, it does not thwart the political process; it's part of our political process. Trump's lack of money from special interest groups will not ensure good decision making; in fact, it could hurt it. And President Hillary Clinton wouldn't be the worst thing this country has experienced. It would be much worse if Americans consigned their values to the dustbin because they hope for some short-term political gain.
Collin Garbarino is an assistant professor of history at Houston Baptist University. He enjoys discussing church history, mystery novels, and Louisiana culture. His favorite conversation partners are his wife and four children