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Donald Trump’s comments on Ben Carson’s religion: obnoxious or truly despicable?

Trump’s latest expostulations of verbal diarrhea did impress me as possibly crossing that line.

Donald Trump: "Seventh Day Adventist? I don't know about. I just don't know about."
REUTERS/Daron Dean

I have given up even thinking that I will know when Donald Trump says something so crazy, irrelevant or immodest that it will end his ride atop the polls among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. A lot of much smarter pundits than me have guessed wrong and likewise stopped guessing. I think that’s the best policy.

I am also no expert on the precise line that separates the merely obnoxious from the truly despicable, but one of Trump’s latest expostulations of verbal diarrhea did impress me as possibly crossing that line.

To get the point of this one, you have to know — and I didn’t know until recently — the religious affiliation of Dr. Ben Carson, the former surgeon who recently came in ahead of Trump in one poll, just of Iowans, taken by the Des Moines Register. It turns out Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist, a religious denomination about which I know nothing.

But Trump, in expressing his disbelief — not his surprise, it was literal disbelief — that he had fallen to second in one poll in one state, and upon being asked about  that fact, suddenly and with no prompting, recited the following Whitmanesque blank verse (no, kidding. This is the literal verbatim Trump quote):

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I love Iowa.

And, look, I don’t have to say it, I’m Presbyterian.

Can you believe it?

Nobody believes I’m Presbyterian.

I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian. I’m Presbyterian.

Boy, that’s down the middle of the road, folks, in all fairness.

I mean: Seventh Day Adventist? I don’t know about. I just don’t know about.

So, a couple of things. First of all, sir, in your opinion, why is it that people find it so unbelievable that you are a Presbyterian? And then, a brief follow up, if it’s so unbelievable, why do you start out by saying that you don’t have to say it? I mean, if it’s that obvious, why do you say it three times? Why do you say it three times? Why do you say it three times?

And how exactly does another denomination, Seventh Day Adventism, suddenly come into your homily? Is it because you don’t know, you just don’t know about Seventh Day Adventism?

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Now maybe you mean to imply that Seventh Day Adventism, unlike other religious denominations, teaches some things that sound pretty weird unless you happen to believe in them.

An apology?

Being negative by nature, some journalists took this statement by Trump about not knowing anything about Seventh Day Adventism as possibly offensive to Carson or to Seventh Day Adventism or to those who think someone else’s religion is their own damn business.

Carson himself suggested an apology would be appropriate. Over on ABC, George Stephanopoulos had Trump on his program Sunday morning and sought to facilitate a reconciliation. It went like this:

Stephanopoulos: “With those comments about Ben Carson’s religion, Seventh Day Adventist, ‘I don’t know about that,’ what were you trying to say?”

Trump: “Well, I don’t. I know nothing about it really. I’m a Presbyterian and I had mentioned that, and I did say I don’t know about it. And, in fact, those are my exact words. So I just really don’t know about the Seventh Day Adventists. I just — you know, and that’s what I said.”

Stephanopoulos: “But why raise it all? You know, some conservatives claim the Seventh Day Adventists are not Christian. Were you trying to send a dog whistle to them because Ben Carson is beating you among Evangelicals in Iowa?”

Trump: “No, not at all. In fact, I think nationwide, I’m beating Ben with the Evangelicals. But, no, not at all. I just don’t know about that particular religion.”

Stephanopoulos: “Back to my question, why raise it?”

Trump: “Because I just said, I don’t know about it. I said nothing about it. I would never say bad. I’d never say bad about any religion. And, as you know, in fact, I think you just had a quote on, I said exactly ‘I don’t know about it.’ So, you know, that’s not an insult…”

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Stephanopoulos: “Ben Carson has asked for an apology. Will you give it to him?”

Trump: “Well, I didn’t say anything bad about it. I just don’t know about it. I would certainly give an apology if I said something bad about it. But I didn’t. All I said was I don’t know about it.”

One more question

He couldn’t make it clearer than that, could he? The one follow-up that I wish Stephanopoulos had asked Trump, would be this: Mr. Trump, with all due respect, and I emphasize “due respect,” are you preparing a complete list of things you don’t know anything about or are you planning to just bring them up as they occur to you, and when can voters hope to have the full list of those things?