PALM BEACH, Fla. — Donald Trump formally won the endorsement of former rival Ben Carson — a potentially significant show of support as the Republican frontrunner seeks to unify the party behind his insurgent campaign for president.
The retired neurosurgeon joined Trump at a Friday morning press conference here at the real estate mogul’s Mar-a-Lago Club, praising him as a “very intelligent man who cares deeply about America.”
“There are two different Donald Trumps,” Carson said as he addressed reporters from a small stage inside an ornate ballroom here. “There’s the one you see on the stage, and there’s the one who is very cerebral, sits there and considers things very carefully; you can have a very good conversation with him. And that’s the Donald Trump you are going to start seeing more and more of.”
Asked later if he agreed with Carson that there are two sides of him, Trump at first said yes. “I think there are two Donald Trumps. There’s the public version and people see that, and I don’t know what they see exactly … but it’s probably different than the personal Donald Trump,” the real estate mogul said. “I am somebody that’s a thinker. … I have my ideas and they are strong.”
But pressed further on the subject a few minutes later, Trump reversed himself. “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps,” he said. “I am who I am.”
Carson’s backing comes a week after the retired neurosurgeon suspended his own bid for the presidency, and it was announced as Trump tries to assume the role of the party’s presumptive nominee and to appear more presidential. But though he has talked up his desire and ability to unify the party, it’s still unclear what steps Trump is actually taking to do that.
The GOP frontrunner said that he has been on the receiving end of phone calls from Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. But he repeatedly ignored a question from Yahoo News about whether he himself is personally doing any outreach to members of the party alarmed by the prospect that he could become the nominee or whether he believes that to be something he should be doing.
At the same time, it was not clear whether Trump asked for Carson’s endorsement or if it was offered. Carson ignored the question. When asked by Yahoo News if he had sought Carson’s backing, Trump replied, “It’s something I wanted.”
Donald Trump takes questions during a press conference with former rival Ben Carson, who endorsed him on Friday. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Carson, a first-time candidate, briefly led polls in early voting states like Iowa, thanks in part to his enormous popularity among evangelical voters. But he was unable to translate that support into actual wins, in spite of raising and spending tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions, mostly from small donors.
Carson’s support came two weeks after Trump won the backing of another former GOP rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Though exit polls suggest Trump is already doing well with evangelical voters, Carson could potentially help the real estate mogul further consolidate that vote away from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has stepped up his appeals to values voters as he seeks to cast himself as the clear Trump alternative in the race.
In many ways, Carson’s endorsement of Trump was no surprise. Though the retired doctor said earlier this week that he was open to backing Trump or Cruz, Carson was angry at what he described as “dirty tricks” by the senator and his aides in Iowa. As voters there headed to caucus, Cruz aides and supporters had falsely spread word that Carson was suspending his campaign for the White House. The Carson campaign blamed those rumors for his disappointing fourth place finish in the state.
At first, Cruz tried to blame the media — citing a CNN report that said Carson was returning home to Florida after the Iowa caucuses. But he later apologized to Carson — both publicly and later in a private meeting inside a tiny closet at a South Carolina forum — though their relationship never recovered.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Carson said he had forgiven Cruz — because that’s what a Christian should do, he told reporters. But he added that the Texas senator had not asked for his endorsement.
Carson shakes hands with Trump on Friday after announcing his endorsement of the Republican frontrunner. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Carson seemed to be more forgiving toward Trump, who at times had viciously attacked his GOP rival on the campaign trail. Last fall, when Carson briefly surpassed Trump as the GOP frontrunner in early polling, the real estate mogul seized on reports that Carson had exaggerated aspects of his personal biography, including a story that he’d been offered a full scholarship to West Point. Carson also claimed he had been violent as a child growing up in Detroit — recalling an incident in which he had attempted to stab a boy — but friends and neighbors who knew him later discounted those stories, saying they had always known the soft-spoken doctor to be “quiet” and “bookish.”
Trump seized on those reports to suggest Carson was potentially “unstable” and had a “pathological disease.” “You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that,” Trump told CNN in November.
But on Friday, both made light of those attacks — with Carson saying it was “just politics.” Asked if he apologized for the things he’d said, Trump dodged the question, instead lavishing Carson with praise as the “one person he couldn’t shake” in the polls.
He suggested that Carson will play both a political and policy role in his campaign moving forward — but declined to be specific. “Ben’s going to have a big part,” Trump said, as Carson stood in the shadows of the stage, far away from the candidate. “We want to keep that kind of talent.”