Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson delivered his God-fearing, Constitution-loving message to about 6,000 people Tuesday night at the Phoenix Convention Center.
The night began with prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, a speech from a former patient, and a heartfelt musical performance from a pastor who wrote a song for the candidate to show his support.
After the long opening, Carson finally came on stage amid cheers of “Ben, Ben, Ben” and greeted the sea of placard-waving supporters with a big smile.
“All the pundits say it’s impossible” for me to win, he told the audience. “But I just say, ‘Lord, if you want me to do it, open the doors and I’ll be there.’” The room erupted in applause and whistles.
Throughout the night, Carson wove his experience of becoming a neurosurgeon after growing up poor with some of the more predictable GOP talking points — how “radical global jihadists want to destroy us and our way of life,” that “America is the land of dreams,” and that “we have an illegal immigration problem” that requires “sealing our borders.”
The crowd went wild over many, but not all, of his statements.
They loved it when he said he would shrink the size of government and when he called Obamacare the “clearest manifestation of [how] something has gone terribly awry” in this country.
They loved it when he talked about getting “back to the Christian principles that our country was founded on” and declared we must cut off welfare and “turn off the spigot of goodies.”
They loved it when he said, “It should be illegal to employ people in this country who are not legal here” and when he talked about cutting corporate tax rates.
In striking contrast, they did not love this suggestion: “We have to get the corporate sector once again recognizing their responsibility to their fellow men,” Carson said, because corporations, not the government, should take the lead in promoting social welfare among “people that are downtrodden.”
This comment received a hesitant, almost muted applause. A quick scan of the audience revealed a number of scrunched foreheads and other confused expressions.
But Carson rebounded quickly, noting that “what intelligent people do when something isn’t working is to do something else while stupid people do more of the same thing.”
Carson gesticulated emphatically with his left hand, using phrases like “unfunded liabilities” and talking extensively about closing the fiscal gap, apparently trusting that his audience cared about and understood federal budgetary politics.
He did his fair share of pandering to the party base, stating that he’s unabashedly anti-abortion and would “wipe out” ISIS and “take their oil” if elected president.
Many New Times spoke with after the rally said it was refreshing that Carson didn't talk down to his audience, rather treating members as capable of intelligent thought and policy discourse.
One woman used Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric to draw a contrast between him and Carson.
This is not to say Carson was dull, joking that if Thomas Jefferson were alive today and saw the way our government passes on debt to future generations, “he would immediately stroke out.”
Carson claimed the media has disseminated “total crap” about him, invoking a high-pitched voice to imitate some accusations frequently made.
“Oh, yeah, Carson’s doing abortions and all these experiments [on fetal tissue],” he squeaked. “Carson doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s just a neurosurgeon; that’s all he knows about.”
After speaking for about 45 minutes, Carson opened the floor to questions, the first of which came from a little girl:
“Hi, sir, I just want to know what your favorite Bible verse is, and I just want to thank you for being a man of faith.” He noted how pleased he was to see an engaged young person before reciting a proverb.
Another question came from a woman who wanted to know his stance on vaccinations — he’s for those against life-threatening or seriously debilitating diseases. But he thinks there’s room for discussion when it comes to illness that won’t kill or cripple people.
“I love him. He’s gotta win. He gives me hope,” Sandy Brocavich said after the rally. “He believes in God.”
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She and her husband, John, who drove from Tucson for the event, said Carson’s promise to restore faith and Christian values in America is a big factor in their decision to support him.
“Our nation is going to hell in a hand-basket,” another audience member, 81-year-old Clara St. John, said. "[That's why] we need someone in office who can turn our nation back to God.”