You can't drive far in these parts without seeing Ben Carson on a billboard, looking more like a man of the cloth than of the operating room.
There's something vaguely beatific in that face and beaming smile. "Run Ben Run!" reads the text on one sign. The moviegoer's mind can't escape the immediate association.
"Run, Forrest, Run!" the little girl cried out to her mentally challenged friend, Forrest Gump, as a group of mean boys taunted and pursued him.
Perhaps this very connection penetrated the barrier reef of Donald Trump's self-regard when he was in Iowa recently. Thursday night, in a riff expressing his puzzlement over Carson's growing popularity, Trump insinuated that Iowans -- and perhaps even some in his audience -- are of limited intelligence.
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"How stupid are the people of Iowa?" he thundered to about 1,500 Iowans. "How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?"
Trump sprinkled "crap" elsewhere in his 95-minute tirade, saying the word at least three times. He also promised to bomb oil fields in Iraq and Syria. And he insisted that the crowd take his word that he knows more about the Islamic State than our generals do.
"Believe me," he said.
Trump has never hesitated to insult any and everyone, including his audiences. A few months ago in South Carolina, for instance, he wasted no time taking down Sen. Lindsey Graham, who though also running for president, was polling near the bottom. Trump's attack not only was gratuitous but reeked of pure meanness. After all, many in the audience probably put Graham in the Senate. How stupid are the people of South Carolina? Trump might as well have said.
In Fort Dodge on Thursday, he launched into several of his political opponents -- calling Marco Rubio "weak like a baby," and referring to Carly Fiorina as "Carly whatever-the-hell-her-name-is" -- but he saved his most toxic remarks for Carson.
Trump couldn't suggest that the retired pediatric neurosurgeon is dumb, so he turned the insult on Carson's supporters. In this richly evangelical state, he also chose to ridicule Carson's personal story of Christian salvation and transformation -- from an angry, violence-prone youth to the calm, reserved visage hovering every several miles above the Iowa landscape.
Trump: "He goes into the bathroom for a couple of hours and he comes out and now he's religious. And the people of Iowa believe him. Give me a break. ... It doesn't happen that way. ... Don't be fools, OK?"
On a roll, Don, on a roll.
Referring to recent media questions about Carson's self-described pathological temper in his youth, Trump made a comparison to child molesters, saying they are "incurable."
First, pathological means related to disease or illness -- or can mean compulsive/obsessive -- but it doesn't necessarily mean incurable, as a doctor would know but perhaps a reality-star business-mogul might not. Practice what you preach, Brother Trump, and preach what you know.
For comparison purposes, Trump could have picked a number of bad habits, from gambling to boozing, but he went for the most universally repulsive thing he could think of -- pedophilia. Maybe his right lobe was firing on the tenuous association between pediatric (neurosurgeon) and child (molester)?
Oh, but I'm stretching, aren't I? Trying too hard to find an explanation for this meaner, nastier, angrier version of Trump when it's all too clear.
This is the true Trump.
Fort Dodge was the inevitable meltdown many of us were anticipating far sooner than now. It's hard even for a showman like Trump to fake for long what you are not.
In a political campaign, as in a courtship, people try to win favor by displaying their most attractive, intelligent, talented persona. But as we all know, you can only consistently project your best self for so long. Eventually, the idealized "you" becomes worn out from the effort, and the real "you" puts on the sweats and grabs the remote. In romance, I put it at about two years.
In politics, the courtship is necessarily, if disastrously, faster -- speed dating for the future of humankind.
Trump got tired. His courtship self was the one who insulted only his opponents and women. True Trump can't stand anyone and wonders why he's wasting time with all these clueless clucks who don't have enough sense to recognize a charlatan when they see one.
Thursday night in Fort Dodge, I'm betting quite a few did.
Write Kathleen Parker, a columnist with the Washington Post Writers group, at email@example.com.