Ben Carson presented his case for a potential run for the White House on Thursday, addressing past controversies and emphasizing his connection to the Republican Party, in a speech to GOP activists and party leaders.
“We don’t need to change America, we need to fix America,” Carson said in his speech to members of the Republican National Committee. “Now is that time. Now that torch of courage has been passed to us. What are we doing to do with it? Are we going to hide that flame or are we going to hold it high so the next generation sees the path to one nation under God, indivisible for liberty and justice for all. ”
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, also acknowledged instances of plagiarism in one of his books and explained several controversial comments he has made including remarks linking Obamacare to slavery.
Carson was accused of plagiarism in his book, “America the Beautiful,” and on Thursday he told the audience, “I take full responsibility for that. When I make a mistake, I am willing to fess up to it.”
But Carson again showed his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric in his speech at the RNC Winter Meeting when he spoke about the terrorist organization ISIS.
“They’ve got the wrong philosophy, but they’re willing to die for what they believe, while we are busily giving away every belief and every value for the sake of political correctness,” he said.
After making the ISIS statement, Carson told the audience that his comments would be taken out of context.
In an interview after his speech, Carson acknowledged that his goal was to explain his candidacy to members of the RNC, “in case I make that decision. Absolutely.”
And Carson said he deliberately addressed the controversies head-on to ensure people in the room were not misinformed by bad information.
“My feeling is that you have to put all of that stuff out in the open, explain, because some people don’t actually dig for themselves to find out what’s going on,” Carson said. “So you want to make sure everybody knows what’s actually going on.”
A Republican in the audience, who asked not to be named to speak freely, said it was a tactical political error for Carson to use this forum to talk about his potential problems.
“He shouldn’t be explaining every charge,” said the Republican attendee. “Shows him to be a novice.”
Carson did receive friendly applause several times throughout the speech, including when he took several jabs at the “liberal media” which he said is targeting him. Criticism of the “liberal media” often plays well with conservative grassroots activists, many of whom are RNC members.
A Carson presidential bid would likely be fueled by the conservative grassroots, specifically conservative Christians, many of whom find inspiration from his life story.
Carson said the recent burst of activity by a handful of potential presidential candidates will not influence his timeframe on whether to announce his own White House, which he noted will happen no later than May 1.
“I don’t see the urgency, quite frankly,” Carson said in a separate interview before he took the stage Thursday afternoon at the RNC meeting. “Let everybody else get in if they feel urgent. But I will have a tendency to do things the way they seem right to me.”
Carson suggested the recent moves by several of the candidates — including announcing staff hires, forming political action committees and “leaking” private conversations indicating their intention of running for the GOP nomination — were a play for campaign dollars.
“They’re all trying to position themselves to get the big money,” Carson said in the interview before his speech. “And the way I kind of look at it, there is plenty of money out there for the right candidate. So why change your strategy? Do what makes sense.”
Carson, a registered independent before switching his party registration to Republican on Election Day last year, made a point to show his allegiance to the room full of party loyalists.
“This is the party that represents freedom, independence, empowerment of the individual,” Carson said in his speech. “Love of our country, of our Constitution and of our history. And those are the things that resonate so strongly with me. What we need to do is articulate those things in a better way.”
Dr. Ada Fisher, national committeewoman from North Carolina, described Carson’s speech as “interesting.”
“It did not hit what people who are looking at candidates might want to hear,” she said. “But it hit people who are interested in America probably needed to hear. There is a difference in a political speech and a speech to tell who you are, and this was more of a speech to tell who he was than a political speech.”
Fisher said further, “I would like to see Ben Carson develop a little bit more and based on his development then we can make a better judgment as to whether he is the right candidate.”