Ben Carson with Donald Trump (Leading Republican candidates)
Ben Carson, the retired paediatric neurosurgeon who with Donald Trump has dominated Republican primary polls, is considering visiting Australia as part of an international trip to bolster his foreign policy credentials, according to reports.
Dr Carson, a favourite among Christian evangelical voters, has slumped in recent polls after revealing apparent gaps in his knowledge of foreign policy. The trend against him has increased since the Paris attacks, with conservative and evangelical voters turning to Mr Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.
A Carson campaign official reportedly told CBS that Dr Carson was considering a trip to either Australia – where he worked as a surgeon for a year in 1983 – Africa or Asia, to change the focus of his campaign before the crucial Iowa caucuses, the first competition of the primaries, in February.
Dr Carson attracted criticism on foreign policy after a series of blunders. During one interview he said incorrectly that China was engaged in fighting in Syria, and in another he said he would combat Islamic State by forging a coalition of American regional allies, but could not name any.
Another blow came when an adviser to Dr Carson told The New York Times that he was struggling to grasp foreign policy despite attempts to tutor him.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” the adviser on terrorism and national security, Duane Clarridge, told the Times . He added that Dr Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “We can make him smart”.
Early this month Dr Carson topped the Republican primary favourite, Mr Trump, for several days, according to the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, polling at 24.8 per cent to Mr Trump’s 24.6 per cent of likely Republican voters.
But since the gaffes and the attacks on Paris Republican primary voters have apparently returned to Mr Trump, whose confident and brash language is the tonal opposite of Dr Carson, who is softly spoken and – by comparison – measured.
On Sunday, Mr Trump was leading by 27.5 per cent to 19.8 per cent.
Dr Carson, who grew up in the tough suburbs of Detroit only to forge a career as one of the United States’ most celebrated surgeons, worked for a year as a neurosurgeon in Australia in 1983.
In June Dr Carson discussed the experience with the arch-conservative audience at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference.
“The biggest problem we had was keeping up with all the dinner invitations,” he said. “They love Americans and they like to hear your accent,” Dr Carson said. “When I would dictate an operative, sometimes the ladies would call me and say ‘Dactah Car-son! We can’t understand your accent.'”
He said he would respond, “Excuse me, I’m the American. You have the accent.”
Dr Carson, who says his life has been shaped at crucial points by the direct intervention of God, said he realised why God had sent him to Australia.
“There were only four neurosurgical consultants in all of western Australia. And once they discovered that I knew how to operate … they left me in charge of the major teaching hospital,” said Dr Carson, who would have been 32 at the time.
Much of Dr Carson’s biography, which has been celebrated in a series of books by the candidate and even a daytime movie, has recently been questioned.
Reporters from CNN could find no evidence to support Dr Carson’s claims of his uncontrollable rage as a teenager, a condition he said was healed by God’s intervention. The Baltimore Sun and local police could not substantiate his claim of witnessing an armed robbery in a takeaway chicken shop.
Dr Carson’s campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment.