MILWAUKEE — Ben Carson blasted the media on Tuesday at the fourth Republican debate of the campaign season.
The political newcomer and retired neurosurgeon slammed the media for what he characterized as lies about his past. He also said the press is treating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton more favorably.
“I have no problem with being vetted. What I do have a problem with is being lied about,” Carson said.
He added: “When I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that, ‘No, this was a terrorist attack,’ and then tells everybody else that it was a video, where I came from, they called that a lie.”
His comments come after CNN reported last week that nine childhood friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson said they had no memory of the anger or violence the candidate has described.
The debate in Milwaukee, hosted by Fox Business, comes at a critical time in the 2016 race.
Similar to Carson, Marco Rubio is under scrutiny as his poll numbers rise. The Florida senator will likely have to defend his use of a state Republican Party charge card, an issue that his critics have seized on.
Meanwhile, the struggles of Jeb Bush — once viewed as the party’s eventual front-runner but now stuck in the single digits — have created an opening that his peers are jockeying to fill.
Rubio, who had a standout debate performance last month in Boulder, Colorado, kicked off the prime-time showdown by arguing against raising the minimum wage — a popular view among Republicans — and pointing to the success of his own parents despite their humble backgrounds.
“If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine,” he said.
Both Trump and Carson appeared to go one step further, saying wages in general were too high.
Carson, the only African-American presidential candidate this cycle, said “high wages” were at least partly to blame for high unemployment among black people.
Trump argued that wages were “too high,” and that raising the minimum wage would hurt economic growth.
Rubio also pressed for stronger vocational training, again seizing a moment to present himself as an advocate for the middle class.
“We need more welders and less philosophers.”
Trump — fresh off an appearance hosting “Saturday Night Live” — remains on top of most polls but is facing increasingly fierce competition from Carson. He has dominated previous debate stages with his populist message and larger-than-life personality.
He offered a preview of some of his potential lines of attack on Monday night.
Trump went after Rubio on Twitter, calling him a “total lightweight.”
During a rally in Springfield, Illinois, Trump blasted Carson’s efforts to prove the veracity of troublesome parts of his childhood.
“A lot of weird things are happening. This is a strange election, isn’t it? Man!” Trump said. “You stab somebody and the newspapers say you didn’t do it. And you say, ‘Yes, I did. I did it.’ ‘No, you didn’t.’ ‘Yes, I did! I stabbed him and it hit the belt!'”
Trump went on: “This is the only election in history where it’s better off if you stabbed somebody. What are we coming to?”
The Carson camp fired back with harsh words for Trump on Tuesday, calling the businessman “desperate.”
“It would not be wise for Mr. Trump to attack him. It’s not a winning approach,” Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager and adviser, told Jake Tapper on “The Lead.” “If he thinks Dr. Carson is going to drop out of the race or be intimidated by his tactics, he’s lost and confused.”
Carson, Trump, Rubio and Bush were joined by Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich and Rand Paul for the prime-time showdown.
Four lower-tier candidates — Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum — kicked off the evening with a one-hour “undercard” debate. Christie and Huckabee had qualified for the main debates in previous gatherings.
Christie, known for his bold style, used the earlier debate to repeatedly slam Hillary Clinton — part of a strategy to make the case that he could take on the Democratic front-runner during a general election.
“If you listen to Hillary Clinton,” Christie said, “she believes that she can make decisions for you better than you can make them for yourself.”
The New Jersey governor, whose political fortunes have fallen drastically following the state scandal dubbed “Bridgegate,” also called on Republicans to train their fire on Clinton rather than each other.
“She is the real adversary tonight, and we better stay focused as Republicans on her,” he said. “Hillary Clinton’s coming for your wallet, everybody. Don’t worry about Huckabee or Jindal, worry about her.”
Jindal made a contrasting case, insisting that not just any Republican was capable of taking on Clinton.
“Let’s not just beat Hillary — let’s elect a conservative,” Jindal said, before going after Christie for his record in New Jersey. “Records matter.”
Tempers flared at the media when a moderator asked each of the candidates to name a Democratic member of Congress they admire the most.
“I think this is why people were so frustrated with the last debate, with these kinds of silly questions,” Jindal shot back, adding that he would fire everyone in Washington as president.
The other three candidates declined to engage the question, offering up unrelated answers.
Lindsey Graham and George Pataki did not qualify for either debate.