Ben Carson's admission Friday to Politico that he had not been offered and accepted a full scholarship to West Point could be a major problem for a presidential candidate whose appeal is almost entirely built on his remarkable personal story.
In two of his books -- the popular "Gifted Hands" as well as a newer book entitled "You Have a Brain" -- Carson tells the West Point story as part of his aspirational life that began in poverty in Detroit and continued through a decorated career as a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon.
Now we know that story is, at best, somewhat misleading. It is of course possible that Carson was either led to believe he might have been given a scholarship to the military academy if he had applied or simply misunderstood a conversation he participated in. That is the direction the Carson team appears to be headed, saying in a statement of his meeting with then-Gen. William Westmoreland: "He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer.”
Regardless of whether the West Point story is a simple misunderstanding or something more nefarious, what it will do is raise this simple question: What else in Ben Carson's remarkable biography might not be totally, 100 percent accurate?
Even before the West Point story broke, Carson was dealing with suggestions that his recounting of his tough childhood highlighted by a terrible temper and a series of altercations with his mother -- among other people -- might not be true.
A CNN report, which was based on interviews with nine people who knew Carson as a young man, argues that the violent portrait he paints of himself doesn't jibe with the person they knew. "All of the people interviewed expressed surprise about the incidents Carson has described," reads the CNN story. "No one challenged the stories directly. Some of those interviewed expressed skepticism, but noted that they could not know what had happened behind closed doors."
Carson spent Thursday insisting that the people who were directly involved in these purported attacks weren't the people that CNN had spoken to and, therefore, the report had no merit.
Now, with the West Point story raging, Carson will come under even more pressure to explain some of the fuzzier parts of his personal biography. And if any other inconsistencies or outright falsehoods come out amid that heightened scrutiny, it could spell curtains for a Carson campaign that has just moved into the pole position in the Republican primary race.
Already Donald Trump, one of his main rivals for the GOP nod, is jumping on Carson.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2015
Remember that the key to Carson's appeal is that he is so unlike most of the other politicians running for the GOP nod. (In a Fox News poll released this week, Carson was regarded as the most "honest" candidate in the field.) That differentiation is entirely anchored in his personal story. If that personal story is undermined in a way that even his own followers have to acknowledge, Carson goes from the brilliant, truth-speaking anti-politician to just another pol who will say and do whatever he thinks he needs to in order to appeal to voters.
It's possible this is a blip on the radar -- somewhat easily explained away by Carson either later today or sometime soon. (Of course, if they had a better explanation, why didn't they offer it up to Politico?) But for a candidate in the middle of his best moment of the campaign, this is a major roadblock -- even if Carson is ultimately able to navigate around it.
The time for testing has come for Carson. Can he take the heat?