Carson pulls punches as Trump pounces

Story highlights

  • Donald Trump calls Carson's views on abortion "horrendous"
  • He slams Carson after his GOP rival knocks his faith

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump pulled no punches as he slammed Ben Carson Thursday morning for questioning his faith. But Carson won't fight back.

Instead, the retired neurosurgeon apologized for firing what the billionaire front-runner perceived as the first shot when Carson on Wednesday called the depth of the two contenders' faith "probably the biggest" difference between them.
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    "I would like to say to him that the intention was not to talk to him, but about what motivates me," Carson told The Washington Post. "If he took that as a personal attack on him, I apologize, it was certainly not the intent."
    Trump hours earlier called in to CNN's "New Day" and laid into his rival, calling Carson -- the first surgeon to separate conjoined twins joined at the head -- just an "OK doctor" and said "you look at his faith and I think you're not going to find so much."
    Trump also called Carson's views on abortion "horrendous." Carson is staunchly opposed to abortion now, but was an abortion rights supporter when he was younger and performed medical research on aborted fetuses in 1992.
    "If you look at his past, which I've done, he wasn't a big man of faith. All of a sudden he's becoming this man of faith. And he was heavy into the world of abortion," Trump said.
    Trump is now opposed to abortion, but only after years supporting women's right to abortions, describing himself in 1999 as "very pro-choice."
    Carson has been a prominent figure in the evangelical community for years and repeatedly touts on the stump the role faith has played in his life. He jumped onto the conservative political scene when in 2013 he delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast, diving into a heavy-handed criticism of President Barack Obama's health care reform measure with Obama at his side.
    Despite the harsh criticism, Carson resisted the urge to wage war with Trump.
    "The media frequently wants to goad people into wars, into gladiator fights, you know. ... And I'm certainly not going to get into that," he told The Washington Post.
    A Carson surrogate -- his business manager, Armstrong Williams -- did go after Trump, suggesting the billionaire was just waiting for an excuse to slam Carson.
    "Mr. Trump sounded almost like a schoolyard bully that if you say something I don't like I'm going to come at you with everything I've got on the table," Williams said on CNN's "This Hour."
    Squabbling between Carson and Trump was expected to be the next subplot in Trump's continued domination of the GOP field as Carson has surged in recent polls, rising above the rest of the pack along with Trump in Iowa and national polls. Carson jumped 10 points to second place at 19% in the most recent CNN/ORC poll while Trump continued to rise, snagging 32% of support.
    Trump and Carson have so far played nice, but Trump recently suggested he might have to start lashing out if Carson continued to surge behind him.
    Carson's criticism of Trump's faith offered Trump the perfect opportunity, allowing him to hit Carson while remaining a "counterpuncher."
    "I've realized where my success has come from, and I don't in anyway deny my faith in God," Carson said Wednesday when asked about the difference between him and Trump, before quoting what he said was one of his favorite Bible verses.
    "'By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life,' and that's a very big part of who I am. I don't get that impression with him," Carson said of Trump. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't get that."
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    Carson told The Washington Post that his comments were interpreted as an attack on Trump.
    Trump has pulled strong support from evangelicals, but has also stumbled on questions about his faith, saying that he does not ask God for forgiveness -- a key tenet of Christianity -- and declining to cite his favorite Bible verse in a recent interview. And the New York church that Trump said he attends told CNN that Trump is not an "active member."
    Trump, who has repeatedly called himself a counterpuncher, said he was only hitting Carson because he attacked him the day before.
    "Who is he to question my faith? When I am -- I mean he doesn't even know me," Trump said. "When he questions my faith -- and I'm a believer, big league, in God and the Bible -- and he questions my faith and he doesn't know me."
    Trump also jabbed at Carson, applying a line of attack he's used against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom he frequently calls "low energy."
    "He makes Bush look like the Energizer bunny," Trump said on "New Day."
    Trump also defended comments he made about Carly Fiorina's appearance in a Rolling Stone profile published Wednesday, insisting he was not talking about her looks when he said "Look at that face!"
    "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president," Trump had said while sitting with a Rolling Stone reporter.
    "I'm not talking about looks. I'm talking about persona," Trump insisted on CNN's "New Day."
    Trump did not refute the accuracy of the quote.
    Fiorina declined the opportunity to punch back Wednesday night on Fox News with Megyn Kelly.
    "Well, I think those comments speak for themselves," Fiorina said. "Honestly, Megyn, I'm not going to spend a single cycle wondering what Donald Trump means."
    But then, sensing an opportunity, Fiorina added:
    "Maybe -- just maybe -- I'm getting under his skin a little bit, because I am climbing in the polls."