On the surface, Trump and Carson are quite different. Carson is soft-spoken. His presence is under-stated. In a primary season peppered with insults, Carson seemed far less eager to attack than many of his rivals. Trump can be loud and boisterous. He has been quick to deploy creative invective on the campaign trail. But both Trump and Carson have relied on stories of personal success to build powerful political personas that they sold to the American public. Both have stumbled on the campaign trail when pressed for policy specifics, but have proven adept at advertising their own brands. Trump trots out his business record, while Carson holds up his life story as a lauded neurosurgeon, as evidence that they have what it takes to turn the United States around. The pitch, in both cases, is pragmatic—and it sounded like the two men recognized, and appreciated, that quality in one another standing on stage Friday.
Trump and Carson are interesting case studies in political authenticity. They both shun political correctness, casting themselves as political outsiders, and are praised by their fans as authentic. But on Friday, both men candidly admitted that not only are they steeped in politics, but they also understand what it takes to win. Trump even acknowledged that he tried to undermine Carson’s campaign simply because he believed that Carson was a political threat. “I have such respect for Ben,” Trump said, recalling he didn’t like seeing Carson rise in the polls. “I said this guy is unbelievable, and so I started going after Ben. It’s politics. Ben understands it,” Trump declared.
That avowal is, in its own way, quite authentic. Trump and Carson effectively admit that certain things are required to achieve political success. For Trump, that meant attacking a rival solely to score political points. For Carson, it meant endorsing a candidate who once excoriated him on the national stage. Maybe the most authentic thing a person can do in politics is admit they’re making calculated moves for personal and political gain.
Of course, both Trump and Carson are also likely to claim there are more noble considerations at stake. Carson insisted that part of the reason he decided to “move on” and stand with Trump was “because it’s not about me. It’s not about Mr. Trump. It’s about America.”
For Trump, pulling back the curtain on politics, and telling voters he knows how to play the game, has long been a part of his pitch and a central element of his appeal. He disdains the influence of money in politics, then talks about how he, too, has bought loyalty. “I will tell you that our system is broken,” Trump declared at a Republican debate. “I give to everybody. When they call I give, and, you know what, when I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. That’s a broken system.” Trump doesn’t sugar-coat the ugliness of politics. He even stakes his understanding of it on first-hand experience. Rather than registering disgust, his fans love what they perceive to be radical honesty.