Once-chummy rap­port be­tween out­siders cools

Car­son, Trump be­gin to ex­change jabs as Iowa cau­cuses near

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY PHILIP RUCKER AND ROBERT COSTA

The two men could not be more dif­fer­ent: One grew up poor and black in Detroit, the other rich and white in Queens. One is soft­spo­ken and spir­i­tual, the other loud and caus­tic. Each epit­o­mizes Amer­i­can suc­cess, though in vastly dif­fer­ent are­nas: one as a brain sur­geon, the other as a celebrity deal-maker.

But to­gether, Ben Car­son and Don­ald Trump stand as the dom­i­nant Repub­li­can can­di­dates for pres­i­dent. Their rise and dura­bil­ity — polls show that com­bined they have the sup­port of 50 per­cent or more of GOP vot­ers — have be­fud­dled po­lit­i­cal elites and be­come the defin­ing dy­namic head­ing into the next de­bate, Wed­nes­day in Boul­der, Colo.

For months, such ri­vals as Jeb Bush, Marco Ru­bio and Ted Cruz have as­sumed that vot­ers even­tu­ally will get se­ri­ous, the out­siders’ stars will flicker out and the real politi­cians will as­sume con­trol. Yet, it is late Oc­to­ber and that has not hap­pened. By de­liv­er­ing sharp, vis­ceral mes­sages that gal­va­nize the an­gry elec­torate, Car­so­nand Trump to­day are mo­nop­o­liz­ing the race more than ever.

“The two out­siders have put a blan­ket over ev­ery­body else,” said Doug Gross, a Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure in Iowa. “No­body else can even get oxy­gen.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Car­son, 64, and Trump, 69, has zigzagged from cor­dial to chummy to cool. They see them­selves as kin­dred spir­its, so much so that Trump has said he would con­sider Car­son as his vice pres­i­dent.

Each has re­sisted blud­geon­ing the other, but with ten­sions ris­ing as the kick­off Iowa cau­cuses draw near, they are start­ing to take each

on. Af­ter fresh polls last week showed Car­son leapfrog­ging Trump for the lead in Iowa, Trump went on the at­tack.

“We have a break­ing story: Don­ald Trump has fallen to sec­ond place be­hind Ben Car­son,” Trump an­nounced Fri­day night at a rowdy Mi­ami rally. Paus­ing for dra­matic ef­fect, he added, “We in­formed Ben, but he was sleep­ing.”

Car­son is “su­per low en­ergy. We need tremen­dous en­ergy,” Trump thun­dered, prompt­ing his sup­port­ers to break into chants of “USA! USA!” He also said Car­son could not cre­ate jobs and ne­goti- ate trade deals.

Car­son shot back, say­ing at a Satur­day event in Iowa: “My en­ergy lev­els are per­fectly fine. . . . There have been many times where I’ve op­er­ated 12, 15, 20 hours, and that re­quires a lot of en­ergy. Doesn’t re­quire a lot of jump­ing up and down and scream­ing, but it does re­quire a lot of con­cen­tra­tion.”

Trump made the same low-en­ergy at­tack over and over against Bush this sum­mer, and it was a dev­as­tat­ing blow to the former Florida gover­nor and one­time es­tab­lish­ment front-run­ner.

Trump kept it up Satur­day in Jack­sonville, Fl a ., say­ing at a riverother front rally: “Car­son is lower en­ergy than Bush. I don’t un­der­stand what’s go­ing on.” He also sin­gled out Car­son’s Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist faith.

“I’m Pres­by­te­rian. Boy, that’s down the mid­dle of the road, folks, in all fair­ness,” Trump said. “I mean, Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.”

Car­son is pre­pared for an on­slaught from Trump, his ad­vis­ers said. “It’s a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the United States of Amer­ica — yes, we ex­pect it,” Car­son spokesman Doug Watts said. “We look for­ward to him mak­ing his point of view with the pub­lic, and if he does stir it up, we’ re all out­siders and anti-Wash­ing­ton, anti-es­tab­lish­ment, so I think there’s go­ing to be a com­mon­al­ity there.”

Car­son plans to take a de­lib­er­ately gen­tle ap­proach to his flam­boy­ant ri­val, said Arm­strong Wil­liams, Car­son’s con­fi­dant and busi­ness man­ager.

“Think about it: Par­ents, chil­dren, em­ploy­ees — they don’t want a boss or a pres­i­dent who is go­ing to fly off the han­dle and throw in­sults at peo­ple,” Wil­liams said. “Peo­ple ex­pect you to have a cer­tain level of class and dig­nity. Wealth does not give you class; it does not give you tem­per­a­ment or dis­ci­pline.”

The other can­di­dates have seemed hapless, how­ever, in tak­ing on Trump. At first, many re­fused to crit­i­cize him. Now, they reg­u­larly take pot­shots but risk com­ing across as des­per­ate.

At­tack­ing Car­son could also prove dif­fi­cult, for Trump or any other can­di­date. In last week’s Wash­ing­ton Post-ABC News poll, 64 per­cent of Repub­li­cans na­tion­ally said that the more they heard about Car­son, the more they liked him — a higher per­cent­age than for any other can­di­date in the sur­vey.

In Iowa, a Des Moines Reg­is­ter-Bloomberg Pol­i­tics poll re­leased Fri­day found Car­son with the high­est fa­vor­a­bil­ity: 84 per­cent of likely Repub­li­can cau­cus­go­ers. The same poll had Car­son surg­ing past Trump, 28 per­cent to 19 per­cent.

“Car­son is kind of an unas­sail­able can­di­date,” said Steve Deace, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host who is sup­port­ing Cruz, the Texas sen­a­tor. “Even if peo­ple don’t think Car­son is ready to lead, they still see him as a sym­bol of what we once were and should be again — the kind of coun­try that pro­duces Ben Car­sons.”

In the me­dia, Car­son has come un­der fire for con­tro­ver­sial com-

in­clud­ing his re­marks that Mus­lims should not be al­lowed to serve as pres­i­dent, and that Adolf Hitler might have been stopped had the Ger­man pub­lic been armed. But the Iowa poll showed vot­ers agree­ing on th­ese points. “What we’ve found is that he’s not pop­u­lar in spite of th­ese vivid things he’s said; he’s pop­u­lar be­cause of them,” said J. Ann Selzer, who con­ducted the sur­vey.

Be­cause of Car­son’s pop­u­lar­ity, top Repub­li­cans say, tak­ing him down will re­quire pre­ci­sion and care. “I don’t think that you need to at­tack him; you just need to ex­am­ine him,” Gross said. “While he has an awe­some bed­side man­ner for a sick pa­tient, you re­ally wouldn’t ask a politi­cian to do brain surgery. Would you ask a brain sur­geon to fix the coun­try?”

Af­ter rais­ing more money in the most re­cent quar­ter than any other Repub­li­can can­di­date, Car­son be­gan a tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing blitz in the four early states last week. Watts said the cam­paign will stay on the air through the spring and is re­serv­ing time in states with March con­tests. So far, his spots are pos­i­tive in­tro­duc­tory mes­sages that end with his slo­gan: “Heal. In­spire. Re­vive.”

Ear­lier this month, Trump told The Wash­ing­ton Post that he would spend up­ward of $20 mil­lion on TV ads and was de­vel­op­ing con­cepts with a Florida-based me­dia firm. Re­act­ing to Car­son’s rise,

“The two out­siders have put a blan­ket over ev­ery­body else. No­body else can even get oxy­gen.”

Doug Gross, a Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure in Iowa

Trump’s al­lies are urg­ing him to air his own ads im­me­di­ately.

“Now is the mo­ment we knew was go­ing to come,” said Roger Stone, a former Trump ad­viser and long­time con­fi­dant. “He needs to get on the air. The whole point of po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing is rep­e­ti­tion, and if Car­son con­tin­ues to rise in places, and neg­a­tive ads be­gin to air against [Trump], do­ing a one-time shot on ‘Morn­ing Joe’ to counter it won’ t be enough .”

The emerg­ing skir­mish is not the first be­tween Car­son and Trump. Car­son, who built a pow­er­ful fol­low­ing with evan­gel­i­cals, stunned Trump in early Septem­ber when he ques­tioned Trump’s faith. He said Trump did not ap­pear to have the “hu­mil­ity and the fear of the Lord.”

Trump counter-punched, mock­ing the famed neu­ro­sur­geon as a medi­ocre, ev­ery­day doc­tor who has only “hired one nurse.”

Al­most im­me­di­ately, they patched things up. “We didn’t want that fight,” said Corey Le­wandowski, Trump’s cam­paign man­ager. “It was an iso­lated in­ci­dent, re­ally. We’ve moved on.”

Since then, Trump and Car­son la­bored to avoid an­other clash. Their cam­paigns were al­lies in ne­go­ti­at­ing the con­di­tions with CNBC for this week’s de­bate. Phone calls and e-mails be­tween the camps are friendly, sig­nal­ing so much an al­liance as a bond be­tween the cy­cle’s most un­ortho­dox can­di­dates.

“We’ve hit a chord, and we’re not as dif­fer­ent as peo­ple think,” Trump told CNN this past week. He spec­u­lated about shar­ing the Repub­li­can ticket with Car­son: “Stranger things have hap­pened.”

Trump and Car­son’s re­la­tion­ship pre­dated the cam­paign. They are neigh­bors in West Palm Beach, Fla., where mu­tual friends in­tro­ments, duced them. Their first ex­tended ex­change was at a din­ner in April 2013, shortly af­ter Car­son and his wife, Candy, moved from their long­time home in Mary­land. The Car­sons en­vi­sioned a peace­ful retirement in the columned man­sion they bought on the 17th hole at Ibis Golf and Coun­try Club.

Trump’s lux­ury Mar-a-Lago golf re­sort was a 15-minute drive away and, at the urg­ing of News­max editor Christo­pher Ruddy, a munot tual friend, Trump in­vited the Car­sons over for din­ner.

Two months prior, Car­son lighted up the po­lit­i­cal right by crit­i­ciz­ing Pres­i­dent Obama at the Na­tional Prayer Break­fast. At Mar-a La go, the Car sons, Trump and Ruddy min­gled with Dror Pa­ley, a Cana­dian or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon, and chil­dren who have health is­sues. Dur­ing the din­ner, Trump and Car­son talked about Car­son’s move, his ca­reer in medicine and Trump’s var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. They dis­cussed Car­son’s speech about Obama. The coun­try was in trou­ble, they agreed, and Obama’s pres­i­dency was a dis­as­ter. But their con­nec­tion ended there, ac­cord­ing to Wil­liams.

“They didn’t get into fam­ily val­ues and strug­gles,” he said. “Th­ese kinds of con­ver­sa­tions can some­times feel like a pro­duc­tion, like meet­ing an im­age and a brand.”

Asked to as­sess the can­di­dates’ rap­port, Le­wandowski was cir­cum­spect.

“They re­spect each other,” he said, “but there can only be one win­ner.”

MARK KAUZLARICH/REUTERS

Don­ald Trump has be­gun re­fer­ring to GOP ri­val Ben Car­son as hav­ing “su­per low en­ergy” and sin­gled out Car­son’s Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist faith. Car­son is ready for an on­slaught, the re­tired sur­geon’s ad­vis­ers say.

ALAN DIAZ/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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