MONTROSE, Ala. — She had known exactly what Ben Carson meant when he spoke of leaders who are trying to "destroy America." That meant President Obama. She had understood perfectly when he spoke of all the "secular progressives who don't like Judeo-Christian values" and "want to destroy your family." That meant all the liberals who would ridicule Christians like her.
And when Carson said at a rally in Mobile on Nov. 19 that God himself had opened his path to the presidency, Toni Ledet, 59, cheered with the crowd of hundreds.
“Christians are tired of what’s going on — they want a leader with strong faith,” she said that night, and now she was home with her husband, Mike, 57, saying something else that explains the deep-rooted appeal of the famed neurosurgeon, even as some recent polls show his popularity slipping.
“I’m afraid,” Toni began, sitting on her front porch in Montrose. “I’m really and truly afraid.”
The rise of Carson toward the top of the polls in the Republican presidential primary race has baffled many political pundits, liberals and some within the GOP establishment, who find his positions short on details, and certain assertions — that the biblical figure Joseph built the Egyptian pyramids to store grain, that the Chinese are operating in Syria — out of touch with reality.
But to see Carson from Mike and Toni Ledet’s front porch, the reverse is true: To them, Carson is the only candidate who fully grasps what they see as the one reality that matters most — that America has fallen away from God. And while other Republican contenders express some version of that sentiment, Toni says it is Carson who seems both the closest to God and the furthest from Obama, who troubles her deeply.
“I think there is going to be an issue in the near future,” she says, sitting in her rocking chair. “He’s got, what, eight months left in his term?”
“A year,” says Mike, a doctor, sipping a glass of water.
“Still, that’s the short term,” says Toni, a fiction writer. “I think he’s staging a certain situation for himself before he leaves office. I think he’s preparing this country to suit his benefit — i.e. refugees, medical issues, gun laws . . . ”
She stops herself and smiles, not wanting to explain further.
“He’s weakening the country is how I’d put it,” Mike says.
“Oh, he’s weakening the country all right,” Toni says.
The Ledet home is brick with six white columns on a street lined with oaks and pines smothered in Spanish moss. Inside for the holidays are the couple's four children, ages 17 to 37, each of whom has a copy of "Jesus Calling," the daily Christian devotional that Mike and Toni read together every morning in a life where God is real and Satan is real and the evidence of both is everywhere they look, especially now.
In the life of Ben Carson, they see a man in tune with the will of God.
“A Christian attitude,” Mike says.
“A Christian-based physician,” Toni says.
"I read his book, and I was just awed," Mike says, referring to "Gifted Hands," Carson's book about his rise from impoverished child to world-famous brain surgeon, in which he describes a God who answered his every prayer, no matter how urgent or mundane — from taking away his anger to giving him exam answers to locating his passport. "He believes there's a higher power."
“He has to have a higher power to do what he does,” says Toni, who saw the movie version on a Christian TV channel. “Anybody would know that.”
In the life of Obama, the Ledets see Carson’s opposite.
“I just don’t trust him,” Mike says.
“He wasn’t honest with the American people when he was elected — there was a lot of subject matter hidden and not brought forth,” Toni says. “That’s my opinion. So.”
She stops herself again because she knows how she might sound, and what people might think, and it makes her feel uncomfortable.
But then she decides she is sick and tired of feeling uncomfortable, which is how she’s felt ever since Obama’s election — and why she decided to go to the Carson rally two days before.
It was her first presidential candidate rally, and as she arrived and saw hundreds of people waving signs that read “Heal” and “Inspire,” she realized she was not the only one feeling sick and tired.
She settled into her seat in the arena, now full of people like Wanda Brooks, a retiree with blond hair, red nails and a “Foxy Ladies Vote Republican” button who said she loves Carson because he is not afraid to stand up for his Christian beliefs, which made her feel like standing up for hers.
“I know it’s not politically correct to say,” she began. “But every nation that has fallen has fallen because they are anti-God. We have no future if we keep going like this. Except beheadings.”
Nearby was Mike Wilson, 49, who said he loves that Carson is “not afraid to offend people” by talking about the thing that worries him most: “radical Muslims.”
"President Obama won't say 'radical Muslims,' " Wilson said. "But there is a fraction of people that hate Americans, and they are radical Muslims."
“If we don’t have godly people running the country, we are going to be in trouble,” said a woman named Aurelia, who didn’t want to give her last name and whose comment elicited nods from the people sitting around her, including a pale young woman named Kinsley who said only a godly person could stand up to Muslim terrorists.
“If we continue like this we run the risk of a serious attack — or a takeover,” said Kinsley, who wouldn’t give her last name, either. Her face was grim. Her arms were folded. “They could be anywhere,” she said of the terrorists. “They could be anyone.”
Brooks leaned in closer and decided to say what “anyone” meant to her. “We don’t have a president that cares about our nation,” she yelled over the music. “I believe he’s a Muslim and wanting Muslims to take over our nation. One nation under Allah instead of one nation under God! But if everyone prays and turns from their wicked ways, then God has promised to answer our prayers. That’s why we need a man of faith.”
And now that man walked onto the stage.
When he spoke so quietly that he almost whispered, the audience saw a wise and humble servant of God. When he spoke of the Lord’s plan for his candidacy, someone yelled “Amen!”
And when he described a nation that had entered a “dark” period, and Christians who had been “bullied,” and all the things that a nameless person everyone understood to be Obama would do to deliberately destroy the nation from within, Toni Ledet felt as if someone understood her deepest fears at last.
Now, sitting in her rocking chair on the front porch with Mike, she is sure she is not alone in her thinking. “You should have heard him,” she says to Mike.
She talks about what Carson said about the Syrian refugees whom Obama has urged Americans to accept.
“He was talking about how he is humble and loves to help people, but he doesn’t believe in bringing the enemy into your country,” she tells Mike.
“Yeah — what’s the word he used?” Mike says, trying to remember what he had read in the paper about how Carson had described his opposition to Syrian refugees. “A bug?”
“A rabid dog,” Toni says. “He said: Would you open your door and let him in?”
“I love dogs, but if you have a herd of dogs, and you got one rabid dog in there who looks like everybody else, it’s a bad situation,” Mike says.
They talk about what would happen if the refugees did come in.
“We are an immigrant country,” Mike says. “We assimilated from all different faiths and all different countries, but bringing immigrants to start their own little country inside of a state . . . doesn’t make sense.”
“And they want their laws,” Toni says. “They want their own little community and their own laws, and they want to live like they did in their country, establishing their little colonies for their faith.”
They discuss how the refugees relate to Obama’s plans.
“How ironic is the timing that Obama’s allowing these refugees to come in?” she says.
"Not allowing — forcing," Mike says.
“Again, that’s where I go back to my belief that he’s bringing them in for a purpose,” she says. “He’s positioning this country, like playing chess. I think we will have another major tragedy like 9/11. He’s positioning certain people in this country to make that happen.”
She explains why she thinks this.
“In the last few years, he’s made comments about how he supports the Islamic faith,” she says. “I think he’s not 100 percent American.”
She pauses and then describes her darkest fear of all, of what will happen if things keep going in this direction, away from what she and Mike call “the biblical way.”
“A lot of people feel like the world is changing drastically for the worse, and I think Satan has his hand in it,” she says, and goes on to explain that she sees evil everywhere. In the legalizing of same-sex marriage. In babies being aborted. In the rise of the Islamic State and what seems to her an insistence by liberals on embracing Muslims and a parallel belittling of Christians for their faith.
“There’s a biblical verse — I wish I could remember it,” Mike says now. “It has to do with when a nation goes against the biblical way, God won’t listen to our prayers.”
Like Carson, they pray about every aspect of their lives, asking for guidance on everything from money to their eternal salvation in heaven.
“We’re going to lose our blessing,” Mike says.
And if that happens?
“Oh, God help us,” Toni says, looking out at the trees.
“It will basically destroy America,” Mike says.
“It’s like an ice cube melting,” Toni says. “You can see it going down, and you can’t stop that ice cube from melting. Unless we take a stand.
“And I think Carson’s trying to take a stand.”