You might think Ben Carson’s recent comments suggesting that prison turns people gay have hurt his presidential campaign. I don’t buy it. In fact, I suspect they’ll improve his chances.
First, Carson’s supporters agree with what he said. According to a March 2014 Washington Post poll, 48 percent of conservative Republicans think being gay is something you choose while only 39 percent disagree. If you polled the activists on the Christian-right most likely to back Carson’s campaign, that figure would probably be even more lopsided.
Second, it won’t exactly shock Carson’s backers to hear that he’s anti-gay. Last March, Carson made headlines for linking “gays” to members of NAMBLA, the man/boy love society, and to “people who believe in bestiality.” Liberals pounced. But there’s no evidence Carson’s comments hurt his nascent presidential campaign. In fact, polls in key primary states regularly show Carson running ahead of candidates like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rick Perry, who the press takes more seriously.
Carson’s anti-gay reputation may hurt him among Republican elites, which could help explain why, after his prison comment, he has now backtracked. But among the hard-right activists he’s courting, Carson’s ability to offend is key to his appeal.