The strange Trump and Carson phenomenon explained

Trump speaks at Sunshine Summit Image copyright Reuters

Pundits have long been wondering why two political outsiders, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, hold such a commanding lead in the Republican race for the White House. For their supporters, the answer is simple.

A day after Trump sharply criticised fellow candidate Carson, they shared a stage at the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Florida.

There were no pyrotechnics, however - just evidence that both frontrunners have a dedicated base of support in Florida, a key electoral battleground, that shows no signs of fading any time soon.

Mr Trump returned to his usual form as he addressed a packed ballroom in a luxury resort near major tourist attractions like Disney World and Universal Studios - "right down the road" from his palatial home in Palm Beach, the candidate noted.

For 20 minutes he regaled the crowd with a typical mix of boasting about his poll numbers and book sales, denunciations of current US immigration and foreign policy, and promises to build a wall on the Mexican border.

"It's going to be a beautiful wall because some day they're probably going to name it after me," he said as the audience cheered. "The Trump wall."

The closest he came to swiping at fellow candidates this time was when he noted the war of words between two senators earlier in the day over immigration reform.

"I watched Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio fighting over who's tougher," he said. "Let me tell you something - I was tougher when it wasn't politically popular to be tough."

Image copyright Reuters
Image copyright Reuters

If Donald Trump's campaign was damaged by his dishevelled, often rambling 95-minute diatribe at an Iowa rally on Thursday - in which he mocked Mr Carson's personal history and said he had an incurable, "pathological" temper - there was no evidence of it Friday evening.

Supporter after supporter in attendance praised Mr Trump for his business acumen and dismissed the earlier remarks as simply evidence of the candidate's tell-it-like-it is personality.

"I like that he's over the top," says Victoria Wilen of Orlando. "My president needs to have bravado. I need to have somebody that's big and strong and loud and powerful."

Yolanda Esquivel from Wauchula, Florida, says the recent criticisms of Mr Trump are just the latest attempts to bring him down.

"I'm looking at what candidates can do, not the picky little things they say that people want to make a big deal of and make into drama," she says. "Come on, let's act like grown-ups."

Before Trump's speech, loyalists lined the hallways of the conference centre to greet their man like a conquering hero. When he plunged into the crowd, flanked by his newly acquired Secret Service escort, the multitude pressed against him, seeking autographs and selfies.

Image copyright Reuters

"People say he doesn't have experience, but he has a lot more experience than Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz because he has executive experience," says Nicholas Poucher, a 16-year-old supporter from Lakeland, Florida. "He has experience running a billion dollar company, and that's the business that counts - not just sitting in a Senate seat."

One supporter placed a hand on Mr Trump's face as he passed - a strange, loving gesture that the New Yorker, who is reluctant to even shake hands, surely found off-putting.

It's all part of life on the presidential campaign circuit, however. And if Mr Trump seemed exhausted by the gruelling day-after-day, cross-country schedule he's been keeping during his rally in Iowa, he was nonplussed on Friday.

Linda Callahan of Pinellas County, Florida, said Mr Trump has started a revolution. "He's brought energy back into the people, and I haven't seen that in a long time," she says. "People are tired of politicians. They want somebody that's not connected with the government. They don't trust government anymore."

Mr Carson, the other outsider candidate who has benefitted the most from this mistrust of government, took the stage shortly after Mr Trump departed - and the contrast between the two men couldn't have been more stark.

Image copyright Reuters

Where Mr Trump was bombastic, Mr Carson was demure. Where the billionaire mogul was boastful, the retired neurosurgeon was humble.

"The good thing about God," he told the crowd, "is you don't have to have a PhD to talk to him. You just have to have faith."

In his quiet manner, however, he was equally scornful of the current Democratic government.

He offered a litany of ways progressives are bringing the nation down - driving up debt, allowing illegal immigration, pushing people onto food stamps, promising free education, reducing funding for national defence, ignoring crumbling public infrastructure and neglecting veterans affairs.

"That's what I would do if I were trying to destroy the country," he said.

After his speech Mr Carson was asked if he was angered by Mr Trump's recent attacks.

"When I was a youngster, I used to get irritated by that kind of thing - 'he said this about you, he said this about your momma'," he said. "I've moved so far beyond that, I don't pay attention to that kind of stuff."

He added, however, that his quiet manner shouldn't be taken as a sign of weakness.

"Strength is not determined by the number of decibels in your voice," he said.

Image caption Carson is virtuous and fresh, says Amy Handshoe

Although Mr Carson doesn't display Mr Trump's fire on the campaign trail, his supporters are equally dedicated.

"He has a lot of good virtuous qualities that I'm looking for in a candidate," says Amy Handshoe of Winchester, Kentucky. "I feel like he has a fresh vision and a fresh approach to the problems."

Angela Nuzzi, a student at the nearby University of Central Florida, says she admires Mr Carson's willingness to persevere in the face of Mr Trump's criticism.

"His whole demeanour is so different than Trump's," she says. "I think the soft-spokenness brings you in, and you just see he has all these ideas that are just genius."

Earlier in the day Mr Carson's business manager said that his candidate admired Mr Trump and was praying for him - a sentiment that several Carson backers echoed later in the day.

"We like Donald Trump, but you can't pull back from that [criticism of Carson]," says Annie Otto, a Wildwood, Florida, resident who has organised the group Grannies for Carson.

"I'm disappointed, but I do believe in the American people's common sense."