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Does Ben Carson have a liberal side?

The presidential candidate has embraced far-right views on everything from gay rights to foreign policy. But Carson has also taken stands at odds with the GOP.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson talks to pastors and community leaders during a meeting at the Bilingual Church in Baltimore, Md., May 7, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson talks to pastors and community leaders during a meeting at the Bilingual Church in Baltimore, Md., May 7, 2015. 

Dr. Ben Carson is running for president on an extremely conservative platform, embracing far-right views on everything from gay marriage (which he has likened to pedophilia) to foreign policy (he says he would do "whatever was necessary" to protect the United States from Russia). But the retired neurosurgeon has also strayed from the usual Republican talking points, making his exact political ideology hard to pinpoint.

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In an interview Friday with CNBC, Carson said the Iraq War was unnecessary, that the government should use tax breaks to "incentivize" businesses to provide child care facilities for inner-city single mothers, and that the federal minimum wage "probably" should be higher than the $7.25 that it is now.

Carson, who said in his campaign announcement that his candidacy was for anyone “with common sense,” has a history of flouting party lines on key issues. In 2013, then a newly-minted conservative hero, Carson got into hot water when he told Glenn Beck he didn’t think assault weapons should be allowed in cities. “I think if you live in the midst of a lot of people, and I’m afraid that that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it,” he said, earning the ire of many on the right.

“What does that mean? He has a zip code litmus test for second amendment rights?” Republican strategist Karen Hanretty remarked to msnbc in February. “Does he know what an AK-47 is?" 

"There’s a lot about Dr. Carson’s views we don’t know."'

"There’s a lot about Dr. Carson’s views we don’t know – everything all hinges on five minutes in front of the president," former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told msnbc, referencing the 2013 speech Carson delivered at the National Prayer Breakfast, which catapulted him to national fame after he criticized President Obama's policies while he sat just feet away.

In the last week, Carson bucked the GOP routinely.

In Iowa, speaking about renewable energy, he began with a classic conservative talking point, before veering into liberal territory.

"I don't particularly like the idea of government subsidies for anything because it interferes with the natural free market," he began, according to The Des Moines Register. "Therefore, I would probably be in favor of taking that $4 billion a year we spend on oil subsidies and using that in new fueling stations" for 30% ethanol blends, he said, arguing gas prices would drop and the environment would benefit.

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“I don’t know any liberals that would say that,” said, laughing heartily at the infeasibility of the idea.

Carson's proposed subsidies are far larger than anything that’s been put on the table to date: In his 2015 budget proposal, Obama suggested $200 in subsidies. And for a party that champions the free market, the idea that the government should divert subsidies toward another industry -- and one with a stated goal of improving the environment, to boot -- is tantamount to blasphemy. 

He also dove in – unprompted – to the climate change conversation, declining to take a stance on the science but suggesting that caring for the environment should be a priority.

"Am I a climate change advocate? I'll tell you what I think about climate change. The temperature's either going up or down at any point in time, so it really is not a big deal,” he said. “What is a big deal is that the environment is under our control. We do have a responsibility to pass it on to those behind us in at least as good a condition as we found it, hopefully an improved condition."

While most conservatives downplay global warming, few argue for protecting the environment for fear of supporting any kind of regulation like the unpopular Environmental Protection Agency. Carson has said previously that the EPA should "be told to work in conjunction with businesses, industry and universities to find the most eco-friendly ways of developing our energy resources."

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Steele said he believes a GOP presidential candidate could buck party lines on an issue in the 2016 election and still win, but questions Carson's focus on ethanol.

"I don’t think it happens on ethanol subsidies," he said.