Ben Carson on the issues: Inside the mind of the retired neurosurgeon surging in polls, rivaling Trump

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Ben Carson speaks in Little Rock, Ark., during his campaign for president. (Photo: Danny Johnston/AP)

The red-blooded Republican base of America is fed up with career politicians and ready to hit reset — if poll numbers are any indication.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has been surging in the early polls for the GOP presidential nomination. His reserved and soft-spoken personality is a far cry from the bombastic rhetoric that’s largely defined the primary race so far.

Like real estate tycoon Donald Trump and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Carson has never held elected office, but that might actually be a boon rather than a hindrance in appealing to conservatives frustrated with politics as usual.

Without a governance track record for Carson, some voters are unsure of whether he would be able to “play the game” necessary to make changes in Washington. But his commitment to conservatism is indisputable.

Here’s where Carson stands on several key issues:

National debt

Carson thinks that the government will not pay down the national debt of more than $18 trillion until a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution mandates it.

He says “career politicians in Washington” have shown that they won’t get serious about balancing the budget until they are forced to.

“Each generation’s greatest responsibility is to pass on a greater opportunity to the next generation. Our generation is failing in this regard,” he wrote on his official website. “A Balanced Budget Amendment to our Constitution will lead to a better future for our grandchildren.”

The Economy

Carson has argued for a flat tax between 10 and 15 percent based on tithing for all Americans.

“You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one [dollar]. Of course I would get rid of all the deductions and all of the loopholes,” he said during an appearance on Fox Business.

Carson also called for gradually raising the age of eligibility for receiving Social Security and eliminating the IRS.

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Ben Carson poses for a photo in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: Danny Johnston/AP)

Immigration

Carson says he does not think that the 14th Amendment should protect birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants.

In a 2014 National Review op-ed, he criticized the Obama administration for making it clear that “certain unaccompanied illegal minors would not be deported if caught.”

According to Carson, this helped to create an environment of tolerance that led to what he called the “current rash of illegal dumping of thousands of children.”

He bemoaned “incentives” for illegal immigration, such as easy government assistance and public school enrollment.

“We must create a system that disincentivizes illegal immigration and upholds the rule of law while providing us with a steady stream of immigrants from other nations who will strengthen our society. Let’s solve the problem and stop playing political football,” he wrote.

Health care

Carson says the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a “looming disaster” and “monstrosity.” Despite the cost of $1.2 trillion, he argues, 23 million people will still not have health insurance even after it has been fully implemented for 10 years.  

He supports health savings accounts that, he says, will lower health care costs while letting Americans make their own decisions about the medical treatment they receive.

Carson says that the medical community must re-establish a direct relationship between patient and physician.

Marijuana

Speaking on Fox News, Carson said that medical marijuana has been useful in certain cases but that he opposes legalizing the drug for recreational use — saying it’s important to remember it is “a gateway drug.”

“I don’t think this is something we really want for our society,” he said. “You know, we’re gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity. We’re changing so rapidly to a different type of society, and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because it’s taboo. It’s politically incorrect. You’re not supposed to talk about these things.”

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Ben Carson speaks with Edwin Johnson at a Little Rock, Ark., coffee shop in August. (Photo: Danny Johnston/AP)

Climate change

Carson has described the issue of manmade climate change as irrelevant. Though he says we must protect the environment, the presidential contender said climate change cannot be an “excuse not to develop our God-given resources.”

Same-sex marriage

Carson opposes same-sex marriage and says he believes in the traditional definition of marriage as one man with one woman. In 2013, he incited controversy by comparing homosexuality to bestiality and the North American Man/Boy Love Association.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition,” he said in an appearance on Fox News.

Carson said he thinks people who want to “change the definition of marriage” are ”directly attacking the relationship between God and his people.“

Abortion

Carson describes himself as “unabashedly and entirely pro-life.” He believes that human life begins at conception and needs to be protected from that point forward. As a surgeon, he has operated on fetuses and says they are “very much alive.”

The Second Amendment

Carson vowed that he would never support any attempt to “to weaken the Second Amendment.” He said it is not a mistake that the Founding Fathers established the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns immediately after the right of free speech — they are essential for American liberty.

“The Second Amendment is a central pillar of our Constitution,” he said. “Our Founding Fathers added it explicitly in order to protect freedom in the United States of America. It provides our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.”

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Ben Carson laughs as his wife, Candy Carson, waves to the crowd after saying a few words supporting her husband in Phoenix. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Israel

Carson says the U.S. must maintain its special bond with Israel and help protect it against surrounding nations that “threaten her very existence.” As Israel is America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East, he added, we must never waiver in supporting the nation.

Iran deal

During a speech in Iowa recently, Carson said that the controversial Iran nuclear deal puts the “whole country in jeopardy” and betrays a “complete lack of common sense,” the Daily Signal reported.

“It [the deal] doesn’t disassemble the nuclear infrastructure of Iran,” Carson said, according to the news site. “It lifts the economic sanctions. … It allows for arms dealing and ballistic missiles. And if we want to inspect something, it has to go through a committee on which Iranians sit, and on which the Russians sit.”

Terrorism

In an opinion piece for the Washington Times, Carson said that conditions across the globe have improved since the United States hit the stage. People need to suspend their knowledge of American history, he said, to believe that the U.S. is the source of much of the world’s problems.

“Understanding that we are not evil makes it easier to identify evil elsewhere and to combat it effectively,” he wrote. “When we accept the falsehood that everyone is equally bad and, therefore, we have no right or obligation to interfere with atrocities occurring elsewhere in the world, we facilitate the development and growth of groups such as ISIS, which are not dissimilar to the adherents of Adolf Hitler, who also aspired to world domination.”

Carson said it is better to fight the country’s enemies when they are in their early stages before they grow into bigger threats.

On his campaign website, Carson said the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp is the best facility in the world for detaining dangerous terrorists while they await a military trial. The United States, he said, must keep Gitmo open to protect the country from potential attacks.

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Ben Carson laughs during a rally in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo: Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)

Tax Code

Carson described the U.S. tax code, which includes more than 74,000 pages, as “an abomination.” He supports wholesale tax reform to remove the system’s complexity and loopholes, arguing that career politicians are unable to deliver the bold changes Americans deserve.

“We need a fairer, simpler, and more equitable tax system,” he said. “Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it.”

Religion

Carson says that Americans should be proud that “courageous men of principle and faith” founded the United States on “Judeo-Christian principles.” He thinks that secular liberals are trying to drive faith out of public spaces in American society.

Confederate flag

Carson says he does not have a problem with removing the Confederate flag from government property and acknowledges that it has been used for racist purposes. But, he said, the real issue is not the flag as much as what people use it to symbolize.

“The issue is not the flag so much as it is how people think,” he said to the Wall Street Journal. “What’s in their heart? You can get rid of every Confederate flag in the world, but if you’re still being motivated by the wrong emotion it’s not going to solve any problem.”

During an appearance on CNN, he shared a story about a racist person trying to intimidate his family into leaving a new home in rural Maryland shortly after they arrived.

“One of the neighbors put up a big Confederate flag on the barn, I guess as a message to us,” Carson said. “And one of our friends who’s a black general came through the drive, saw that and said, ‘I’m in the wrong place.’ The interesting thing is all the neighbors immediately put up American flags and shamed this individual and he took it down.”

Carson said that humans are social beings and we live in a pluralistic society, so we should pay attention to the messages we send one another.

With additional reporting from Yahoo News’ Gabby Kaufman

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