Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump hammered rival Ben Carson on Thursday over comments Mr. Carson had made Wednesday alluding to Mr. Trump’s faith, labeling Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, an “OK doctor” who will not be the next president.
“Who is he to question my faith? I mean, he doesn’t even know me. I’ve met him a few times, but I don’t know Ben Carson,” Mr. Trump said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Mr. Carson, who has catapulted to second place behind Mr. Trump in recent polling on the race for the 2016 GOP nomination, had been asked Wednesday in California how he was different than Mr. Trump. Mr. Carson said he has realized where his success has come from, “and I don’t in any way deny my faith in God.”
Mr. Carson quoted a Bible verse to expand on the thought: “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life and that’s a very big part of who I am — humility and fear of the Lord.”
“I don’t get that impression with him,” Mr. Carson said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t get that impression.”
Mr. Trump said Thursday that it looked like Mr. Carson had memorized the verse about two minutes before he said it.
“So, you know, don’t tell me about Ben Carson,” he said. “He’s starting to hit me, so I hit back. I only hit back when I get hit.”
“Ben Carson, you’re talking about his faith — go back and look at his past,” Mr. Trump said. “Go back and look at his views on abortion and see what he says.”
Mr. Trump went on to describe Mr. Carson as “very low-key” and that he makes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who Mr. Trump has repeatedly labeled “low-energy,” “look like the Energizer bunny.”
“He was a doctor, perhaps, you know, an OK doctor, by the way — [you] should check that out, too,” he said. “He was an OK doctor … now because he’s a doctor and he hired one nurse, he’s gonna end up being the president of the United States?”
“If you look at his past, which I’ve done, he wasn’t a big man of faith. All of a sudden he’s become this man of faith,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Carson, a Seventh-Day Adventist. “And he was heavy into the world of abortion, and he was a doctor, and take a look at the hospitals where he worked. He was a doctor. Check out the past and see.”
“All of a sudden, he’s oh, he’s totally anti-abortion,” he said. “Well, if you look back you will find he’s a very much different Ben Carson. Now one other thing — he shouldn’t be questioning my faith because number one, I’m leading with the evangelicals. I’m Protestant and I’m Presbyterian. I have great relationships with the people of Iowa, with New Hampshire, with South Carolina, and he shouldn’t be questioning my faith.”
“I hardly know Ben Carson,” Mr. Trump said. “When he questions my faith — and I’m a believer, big league, in God, in the Bible — and he questions my faith and he doesn’t know me?”
“I think that the evangelicals understand me. First of all, they know I’m going to run the country properly and I’m not [going to] let everybody rip us off and take our jobs and take our money, and that’s very important to the evangelicals,” he said. “They are very smart people, and they also know I’m a man of faith. I don’t want Ben Carson criticizing my faith, certainly when he doesn’t know me he can’t do that.”
For his part, Mr. Carson told The Washington Post after Mr. Trump’s Thursday morning television appearance that he isn’t going to be pulled into a drawn-out battle with the billionaire businessman.
“Everyone is going to be saying, ‘Oh there’s a big fight, everyone come watch the fight,’” Mr. Carson said. “But it’s just not going to be as great as they think, because I’m not going to participate.”
He also chalked the whole thing up to a misunderstanding and said he felt bad that Mr. Trump felt he was attacking him.
“I would like to say to him that the intention was not to talk to him but about what motivates me,” Mr. Carson said about the religion comment. “If he took that as a personal attack on him, I apologize, it was certainly not the intent.”
“Will there be other things that I say that people will misinterpret? Of course there will,” he said. “This won’t be the last time.”