This is definitely Ben Carson's week. He's now besting Donald Trump in Iowa and at least one national poll, and the political world's eyes will be on the retired neurosurgeon at Wednesday's third GOP presidential debate.
But bright lights are soon followed by intense scrutiny, and if two recent interviews are any indication, Carson -- while roundly recognized as a brilliant and groundbreaking doctor -- can struggle when he's pressed to explain his policies. That should worry supporters who are hoping two more hours in the spotlight will help solidify Carson's lead.
In an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, Carson sounded more like an unprepared job candidate than a presidential candidate when Stephanopoulos pressed him on his résumé. Here's an excerpt from the transcript:
CARSON: When you go into a negotiation, the recent Iran negotiation, for instance, you have to know how to negotiate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you ever done anything like that?
CARSON: Have I ever done anything like what, negotiate?
After some hemming, Carson's answer was that he negotiated a lot as the head of Johns Hopkins University's pediatric neurosurgery unit.
Things unraveled more when Carson waded into foreign policy. Stephanopoulos noted Carson is the only major candidate to oppose President George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In explaining his position, Carson sounded like a student who was called on in class to talk about something he hadn't quite read up on. See if this sentence makes any sense:
CARSON: Well, I was primarily talking about Iraq. You know, I wasn't particularly interested in going into Afghanistan, but I do think that we should have taken aggressive action. And I think, you know, creating a base that did not require tens of thousands of our troops, that required a -- a group.
Then, in an interview Tuesday with CNN's Jake Tapper, Carson was forced to backtrack on a proposal he offered as recently as 2014 to redistribute public funds from affluent communities to evenly fund schools across the nation (i.e. a conservative no-no).
After an awkward back-and-forth with Tapper, Carson's response was again muddied:
"I think it's very different than a situation where someone is working hard, is making a lot of money, is providing a lot of jobs and is contributing to the fabric of America, and us going along and saying, 'Well, this one, he has too much, and this guy over here, he has too little, so let's just take this one's and give it to that one.' That's much more arbitrary."
Carson felt the need to clarify his position on Facebook that afternoon.
These two rough interviews don't bode well for Carson's debate performance Wednesday, because being pressed on what he's proposing (and has proposed) is exactly how Carson can expect to spend two full hours. Now that he's one of the field's front-runners, Carson can no longer bide his time to jump in when it's convenient or wait until the moderators call on him; he'll be batting away attacks and scrutiny of his record much of the night.
His supporters should hope Carson is a bit more prepared to defend his policies on the debate stage than he appeared to be in interviews over the past week.