MIAMI, FLORIDA — Ahead of a weeklong trip to Florida, neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson did not study up on the complex evolution of U.S. policy towards Cuba and Cuban immigrants, and openly admitted to reporters this week that he does not yet have a clear plan to share with voters.
“There are a lot of policies that I lack knowledge on,” he told reporters during his book signing in Miami on Thursday. “I’m gaining knowledge. But I don’t by any stretch of the imagination confess to knowing everything. That’s the reason you have advisors.”
“Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, ‘A multitude of counselors is safety.’ The real question [about candidates] is, after they’re informed and have an opportunity to digest and talk about it, can they make a wise decision? It’s a false narrative that you have to know everything.”
Reporters for local and international Spanish language outlets were not satisfied with this answer, and pressed Carson further at his book signing in Miami on Thursday for his stance on the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allows Cuban immigrants who reach U.S. shores to legally remain.
Carson admitted in a phone interview earlier this week that he had never heard of this law, which impacts a huge numbers of families in this key swing state. Speaking to reporters Thursday, he seemed to recite what the Miami Herald reporters had told him in that interview.
“The whole ‘wet foot dry, foot thing’ doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Many people have taken advantage of it and gotten all kinds of benefits that perhaps they don’t deserve. Then there are others who get denied things they should have. The emphasis should be on people trying to escape an oppressive regime, how do we help the ones appropriately doing that, while making sure others aren’t taking advantage of our generosity.”
Carson was similarly unclear on whether he would undo the Obama Administration’s move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after a 54 year suspension that began after the island nation’s revolution.
“I am not particularly happy with how this Administration has done it,” Carson said. “I would have liked them to use normalization as leverage, rather than the kind of negotiation we do everywhere, which is, give everybody what they want and say, ‘Please be nice to us.'”
But he emphasized, again, that he is not entirely informed on the subject, saying, “I want to spend more time looking at the pros and cons. I want to do a deep dive.”
Carson has been adamant that his Florida book tour this week is not part of his campaign for the White House. But this professed ignorance on a vital local issue did not sit well with voters in the Miami area, including some of Carson’s supporters.
“He has to have more understanding of the politics,” Fort Lauderdale resident Adriana Newman told ThinkProgress. “How can he not know about something that’s been a problem for many years? Many people are still hurting [because of U.S.-Cuba policies]. For him to understand it is a must. You can’t just say you don’t know.”
“I don’t think he’s going to be the president, but he’s a good man,” she concluded, waiting for her book to be signed.
Yet other Carson fans are as unsure as he is about the proper path forward for the U.S. and Cuba.
Marilu Martinez, who emigrated from Cuba as a young child and lives in Miami, told ThinkProgress, “I don’t know what to do.”
“I just don’t trust the Cuban government,” she said. “As long as the Castros are in power, nothing is going to change. So I feel for [Cubans] and wish they could have a better life and help them get back up again. But if we help them financially, we’re helping the government. I don’t think it goes down to the people.”
Some of Carson’s Republican rivals in the 2016 race, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have taken a firm, hawkish stance on the topic. They have vowed to reverse the recent diplomatic opening with Cuba if they’re elected, and are currently attempting to defund the new U.S. embassy in Havana. Recent polls have found that both the general population and Cuban Americans largely support the new relationship.