Two Donald Trumps, or two Ben Carsons?

Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the new book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” (St. Martin’s Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Story highlights

MIchael D'Antonio, who wrote book about Trump, says there are indeed 2 Trumps

The "thinking" Trump cannot talk intelligently about the issues, D'Antonio says

D'Antonio: More important question after endorsement is: Are there two Ben Carsons?

CNN  — 

Ben Carson, who presents himself as highly religious, sober and careful, endorsed the profane, grasping, bully Donald Trump for president on Friday, explaining: “There are two Donald Trumps. There is one who sits on the stage and the one who is cerebral … and that’s the one you are going to start seeing more and more of.”

As Carson announced his endorsement, he skirted his history with Trump, who during the campaign said Carson had been a “pathological” liar and who suggested this problem was as incurable as pedophilia.

“If you’re a child molester, there’s no cure, they can’t stop you. Pathological, there’s no cure.” But on Friday the soft-spoken Carson said, “We buried the hatchet. That was political stuff.” Besides, Carson repeated: “There are two Donald Trumps.”

Michael D'Antonio

“There’s the Donald Trump that you see on television and who gets out in front of big audiences, and there’s the Donald Trump behind the scenes,” he said. “They’re not the same person. One’s very much an entertainer, and one is actually a thinking individual.”

Carson, who seems to set a very low bar when it comes to who might be qualified to occupy the Oval Office, spent an hour with Trump and concluded he had the right stuff because, “You can have a very good conversation with him.”

There is, indeed, more than one Donald Trump. One is the public man who offers stream-of-consciousness riffs laden with insults and distortions. But the “thinking individual” whom Carson described is also real, to a degree. I met this version of the man briefly during each of my five encounters with Trump, when he submitted to questions for my book about him.

Unfortunately, the cerebral Trump didn’t hang around very much. In the hours we spent together, this fellow lacked a true understanding of even the issues and quickly ran out of things to say. When this happened, he reverted to talking about his wealth, his brilliance and his winning ways.

A typical example was his answer to my question about whether he had used drugs as a college student in the 1960s. He tried to answer the question at hand, but soon started to stray. He said:

“I never had drugs. I’ll tell you what – one of the things that helped me so much – and this could be important. I’ve been very successful and people are starting to find out I’ve been much more successful than people even admit. People are starting to figure that out. Much more successful. You’re not covering economics or finances, I guess, but I’m much richer than people understand.”

Trump’s tendency to stray into self-promotion and pride is perhaps the only consistent element in his personality. It has been on display for as long as he has been in the public eye.

In the 1970s Trump sought recognition for his accomplishments as a real estate developer years before he had, in the parlance of the trade, put two bricks together. In the 1980s, this man with no diplomatic experience or training offered himself to negotiate an arms control treaty with the former Soviet Union.

He has, throughout his life, been a public critic of everyone from Ronald Reagan to Al Gore and he has been willing to flirt with bigotry – his attacks on Muslims and Mexicans are a prime example – in order to make his points.

So inconsistent is Trump that over the years he has been both pro-choice and anti-abortion as well as in favor of and against stricter gun control. Trump displayed his dual nature in real time as he interacted with Carson during the endorsement press conference.

Trump first considered the “two Trumps” theory Carson offered and said, “I probably do agree. There’s the public version … it seems to have worked over my lifetime,” he said. “I think it’s different than the personal one.”

But soon after making this agreeable statement Trump changed course. “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps,” he declared. “I think there’s one Donald Trump.”

It was a strange moment in a campaign that, thanks to characters like Trump and Carson, has been full of strangeness. Carson’s oddities have included the claim that health care reform is “the worst thing that has happened to this nation since slavery” and he has said that Planned Parenthood was founded to control the black population and that “most of their clinics” have been located in black neighborhoods. Neither claim is true.

Carson’s limited grasp of the issues was evident time and again during his campaign for president. To his credit he would sometimes confess that he wasn’t prepared to answer a question, and this honesty suggested a certain admirable integrity.

But now, with his endorsement of a man who has repeatedly demonstrated cruelty, narcissism and a loose relationship with the truth, Carson’s own character comes into question. We always knew that there was more than one Trump. Now, it seems, there’s more than one Carson as well.

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