Why Ben Carson is Leading in Iowa

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Col. Larry Wilkerson, just returning from Iowa says controversial statements that are anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, anti-gun control and anti-abortion, are at the heart of Carson’s popularity

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The 2016 election campaign is underway, as February 1 Iowa caucuses nears. Ben Carson has surpassed Donald Trump to lead the Republicans in Iowa thus far. Meanwhile on Sunday, the leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley also took to the stage in Iowa. Clinton is leading Sanders by two points, with O’Malley trailing at around 3 percent according to the latest polls.

Just back from Iowa to discuss the latest developments is Col. Larry Wilkerson. Larry Wilkerson is a retired United States Army colonel and former chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. And an important note here is that he’s a registered Republican. Larry, thank you so much for joining us.

COL. LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: So Larry, let’s begin just with how important is the Iowa caucuses?

WILKERSON: I think South Carolina, which is next of course, Iowa in the middle, and New Hampshire, which starts off, are important more and more because of the media more than anything else. They tend to establish frontrunners. They tend to establish the rhetoric around those frontrunners. When you have 16 or 17 like my party does, that’s fairly important. Maybe it’s not quite so important with the Democrats, because you really only have I suppose two viable candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. By the way, when I left Iowa you gave on statistic. They were quoting Bernie at 42 and Hillary at 48, and saying that Bernie was closing rapidly on Hillary.

Other than that, I’m not sure what importance they do have. But that could in the end be significant when you have such an array of candidates, particularly as I said in my party, and you have to pin something down early just to get your money flowing and to get people interested.

PERIES: And how much of this is media hype, given that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also Ronald Reagan, they never even won in Iowa. So they still became president. How much of this is the actual projection or trajectory in terms of what will happen, and how much of it is all media hype?

WILKERSON: I think a lot of it is media hype. But as I said, when you have a more or less open field like the Republicans do, and you have people like Donald Trump in that field–incidentally, Dr. Carson’s overtaking Trump in Iowa, and I think probably was projected to overtake him. Again, here I’ll talk about this if you ask me, religion is the principle issue there. Evangelical religion, I hasten to add.

PERIES: How is that playing out? How is that playing out through Ben Carson?

WILKERSON: He is the candidate whom the evangelicals and other, what I would call non-Christian Christians, because I do not recognize them as Christians. They aren’t New Testament Christians. They’re not Jesus Christ Christians. These are a very different breed of Christian. And I think Ben Carson is speaking to those people. I think he sounds like one of them, and they identify with him for that purpose.

PERIES: Right. And why the sudden surge of Christianity in the Iowa caucuses?

WILKERSON: I think in the Midwest you have this phenomenon called Pat Robertson. You have others who push it, too, John Hagee, Franklin Graham. This is the awakening, if you will. And incidentally, it’s not the first awakening. Of course we’ve had several in the past before marked by people like, or pointed out in the Financial Times this weekend as a matter of fact, in an excerpt from Marilynne Robinson’s new book, The Giveness of Things. And she titles this excerpt in the Financial Times The Awakening.

And she talks about how she does not recognize these people. A very proud Christian herself, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, she points out how the New Testament is full of Christ saying over and over again how the rich people will be low and the poor people will be high, and how Christ is always ending things with poor people, not rich people. How his message is to poor people. His message is about poor people. His message is about the downtrodden, and so forth. And these definitely aren’t people resonate with that message. And she’s asking the question, who are these folks? Who are these people, for example, who want to bring about Armageddon, who want Christ to descend with a flaming sword, or as one army general said, an AR-15, and destroy all the nonbelievers, and so forth. And who are utterly intolerant towards any other religion, particularly Islam.

And who constantly vote against their own material interest. They vote against employment security. They vote against things like Medicare and Social Security. They vote against things that would make their lives better in that they do that in exchange for voting for things like candidates who are against abortion. Candidates who are for guns. Candidates who are against social issues like LGBTs serving in the military, and things like that. They vote for candidates who are on their side, the side of Christ if you will, in their words, in these issues. These social issues. And they vote constantly against their own best interest for more substantive issues.

This is taking place in other places just in Iowa, but Iowa’s a prominent example of this, I think. And it’s a real contrast to what Iowa has been in the past, with its Leaches and its Harkins and so forth. It’s a real phenomenon to go to Des Moines or go to Ames City or go to Cedar Rapids or to go to Pella or wherever, and see these things happening in a, and to see a very different Iowa than one has become used to.

PERIES: And is such a leadup to the elections really necessary? I mean, in Canada we had one of the longest campaigns just recently at 78 days long, and everyone was–.

WILKERSON: That’s not long for an American campaign, is it.

PERIES: No, not at all. So my question is, the economics of it all, obviously to have the horse race starting earlier benefits television, for example. They can start running–.

WILKERSON: I saw one estimate they were going to spend $12.5 billion on media alone in this campaign.

PERIES: And I remember when you came back from New Hampshire, you said the entire state is geared, the economy is now dependent on these kinds of preliminaries. How much of that is going on in Iowa?

WILKERSON: Well, I was on the campuses of Iowa State, Iowa University, Drake, Central. I was in a number of other places. I did an interview with NPR in Des Moines. And I didn’t see a lot of that yet. But I suspect that the media’s going to make much money all across the country. And probably going to make a lot of money in the three initial states, New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina. It’s a given with people like Donald Trump, who’s really an entertainer, not a candidate for president in my estimation, a real TV guy. A reality TV guy, if you will. The media’s poised to make a great deal of money off this. And the longer it runs the more money they make.

PERIES: And just turning our heads to the Democrats, what are they sounding like on the ground, and did you get a chance to hear them?

WILKERSON: Well, I didn’t get a chance to actually stand in one of the town hall meetings or anything and hear Hillary or Bernie, but I did have reports from people who did. And one of the things that was happening was that Bernie was catching up with Hillary in terms of the polls, and there were some who predicted that Bernie and she would be in a dead heat before it was over. I think both of their performances in the recent Democratic debate helped them. I think there is another half of Iowa, if you will, and I’ve no idea if it breaks down really 50-50. I’ve just got that kind of sense.

But there’s another half of Iowa that’s still the old, traditional Iowa. The Leach Iowa, the Harkin Iowa. And they’re tending to look at the Democrats, [inaud.] in that group, are tending to look at Bernie Sanders I think with ever-increasing positive vibes. So in Iowa at least, with the Democratic base there, I think Hillary’s got some real strong competition in Bernie Sanders.

PERIES: Right. I thank you so much for joining us, Larry, and giving us this inside view of what’s going on in Iowa. Thank you.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini, and let me just say that this religious phenomenon that’s impacting the country, not just in Iowa but all across the nation, and impacting the U.S. armed forces, too, is–it’s been dangerous in the past. After all, we burned people in Massachusetts in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the famous Salem Witch Trials. This is not too different from that, again. It’s just a little more sophisticated. It’s a dangerous phenomenon, and I wish I weren’t seeing it developing.

PERIES: And speaking of these kinds of dangerous phenomenons, I understand that Ben Carson was actually making some very controversial remarks, comparing abortion procedure to slavery. What was that all about?

WILKERSON: I don’t know where he’s coming from. I really don’t. His remarks about Muslims, I have gotten email after email from Muslim soldiers and marines telling me what, where is he coming from, that a Muslim shouldn’t be president of the United States, or can’t be expected to follow the Constitution? There are over 4,000 Muslims serving in the U.S. armed forces right now, each of whom took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Not Sharia law, not Islam, not some foreign government.

So I don’t know where Carson’s coming from. I do know that he’s a very dangerous person in that regard, though.

PERIES: And it’s a very strange phenomena that a person of color, a black man like Ben Carson, is enticing this kind of racial stereotyping against Muslims, but it’s also interesting that this religious community you’re talking about, usually right-wing and conservative, are also supporting of Ben Carson, who is African-American.

WILKERSON: Yes. There are some strange bedfellows out there, Sharmini, I’ll tell you that. Some strange bedfellows.

PERIES: All right. Larry, thank you so much for joining us today.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.