CEDAR FALLS — Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential candidate and conservative author, said the recent focus in the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton has lost sight of the differences between the candidates.
“If we were smart, we would actually be talking about those differences, rather than talking about somebody who assaulted somebody, whether real or not, or what other collusions are going on,” Carson told a crowd of more than 150 people Sunday at the Black Hawk County Republicans’ Lincoln Dinner. “These things are diversions, and they keep one’s eye off of the actual prize, the actual issues.”
Carson said the focus should be on the differences between the presidential candidates’ tax plans and immigration plans, for example.
It was a theme echoed throughout the night, as the Republicans who mentioned Trump — rather than focusing on their local races, as many did — talked not about the traits of the Republican nominee but the reason it’s so important to elect him.
Carson criticized his fellow Republicans who vied for the presidential nomination — 17 in total — for not being as present on the campaign trail to help support Trump.
“A lot of the people who ran for president and lost, they kind of disappeared, and it’s really about them ... but for me, it was never about me. It was about this country, and the fact that this country is in so much trouble, and that we have to say that,” Carson said.
Carson acknowledged those who are having difficulty choosing between “the lesser of two evils,” but presented the 2016 presidential election as a choice between a paper cut and an amputation.
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He also presented the election as a choice between the people and “political elites.” Carson said that’s why “so many of the Republican establishment (are) refusing to support Donald Trump.”
U.S. Rep. Rod Blum echoed Carson’s comments.
“Can Donald Trump be crude? He’s a New Yorker, of course … he can be crude,” Blum said. “Is Hillary Clinton a pathological liar? Yes. OK, so they both have these personality flaws, if you will. Let’s talk about the policies.”
Blum said he thinks the reason Trump is succeeding in Iowa — Trump leads Clinton here by an average of 3.7 points, according to RealClearPolitics — is because the party and elected officials here have “not abandoned him.”
For U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, his main reason to support Trump is because of “how insecure we will be” if Clinton wins.
Clinton’s Iowa campaign organized a news conference Sunday in Cedar Rapids as a response to Carson’s visit, where the attendees argued “decades of progress” would be lost for the African-American community if Trump were elected.
They also noted the Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Falls followed the vandalism at a Waterloo mosque this weekend with “Trump” spray painted on its wall, though law enforcement has not indicated any connection with the Trump campaign. The vandalism was not discussed during the GOP event.
But Black Hawk County Republican Chairman Scott Adkins said after the dinner the vandalism is a crime, and it’s “in poor taste” to politicize it. He noted Republicans came to help clean up the vandalism.
“I hope they catch who did it, absolutely. We have a freedom of religion in this country, and that applies to Muslims as well,” Adkins said. “Republicans, we don’t do that kind of stuff; that’s not our schtick. The fact that they would even say that really offends me.”
James Lynch contributed to this story.