The GOP has a reputation for being filled with a bunch of great big old meanies. In the past few days, Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been both accidentally and intentionally feeding that reputation.
Let’s begin with poor Ben Carson who, in an apparent attempt to create rapport with a group of fifth-graders, encouraged them to point out the worst student in their class. Carson has long told a story about how he himself was the worst student in fifth grade, but this attempt to relate that story to actual fifth graders in the room didn’t go over well. As anyone could have predicted:
But Carson flopped yesterday when, in a presumably well-intentioned effort to relate to a group of schoolchildren in Cedar Rapids, he told the tale [of his own fifth-grade underachievement] once more — then, unfortunately, began ad libbing, as the Des Moines Register reported.
“Anybody here in fifth grade?” Carson said. “Who’s the worst student?”
This was not a deleted scene from a dream sequence in a John Hughes film. This was real. The question briefly hung in the air — a humiliation bomb waiting to be told its target.
Then, the finger-pointing began. One student from Isaac Newton Christian Academy — motto: “Developing Christlike character and academic excellence” — was singled out by his peers, a dozen of whom pointed directly to their choice, that one boy, for “worst student.”
Carson ran with it.
“Well, let me tell you, if you had asked that question in my classroom, there would have been no doubt,” he said.
After the rally, Carson met with the student — a 10-year-old wearing a gray polo and a weary expression. Common decency mandates that his name go unmentioned here.
I don’t think Carson was intending to be mean. But he certainly got raked over the coals for it nonetheless.
Donald Trump’s recent story is far more black and white. Some Bernie Sanders fans snuck into a Trump rally in Vermont, and they weren’t treated warmly. In fact, Trump openly relished kicking them out:
. . . Half an hour into [Trump’s] speech some Sanders supporters began chanting.
Trump said it was “fun” to have the protesters attend his events and kick them out.
“It’s about 10 degrees below zero outside. You can keep his coat; tell him we’ll send it to him in a couple of weeks,” Trump told security.
“You know it’s sort of fun. Isn’t this more exciting?” Trump added. “You know, you go to a Hillary thing. It’s like, boring. You go to a Jeb thing and you fall asleep.”
I guess either of these stories would be more significant if GOP voters valued kindness and tact. Carson’s gaffe will probably be condemned more roundly than Trump’s since it was apparently accidental bullying. That’s the only kind of bullying most people won’t applaud. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “A gentleman never insults anyone unintentionally.” By that definition, Trump is the greatest gentleman ever to run for office.