Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon flirting with a run for president in 2016, warned party leaders Thursday that Republicans must avoid being cowed by political correctness, and said he stood by controversial statements about same-sex marriage, Obamacare, the "Gestapo" tactics of the federal government and the Veterans Affairs scandal.
"We must be willing to stand up for what we believe in," he said.
Carson contrasted the dedication of the nation's founders to their cause to that of the Islamic State.
"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," Carson said.
Carson has come under criticism in the past for equating gays who sought the right to marry to people who approved of sex with children or animals.
"Marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA" -- a group favoring sex between men and boys -- "be they people who believe in bestiality -- it doesn't matter what they are, they don't get to change the definition," he said during a 2013 interview with Fox's Sean Hannity.
Carson said Thursday that critics had twisted his words to say that he equated same-sex marriage with pedophilia and bestiality.
"I never said that," he said. "I don't believe that by any stretch of the imagination. "
He said he believes two consenting adults ought to be free to do anything they want -- including obtaining legal recognition of their partnership -- but he does not believe the definition of marriage ought to be changed.
"They just don't get to call it marriage. They don't get to change the definition of marriage," he said, to growing applause. "If you do it for one, you've got to do it for the next one that comes along and the next one that comes along, and pretty soon, it has no meaning. So I don't have any problem with gay people, no problem whatsoever, but I don't think anybody gets to change things for everybody else."
On another topic popular with the crowd, Carson heralded health savings accounts and comparison shopping by patients as a better solution to improving healthcare than Obamacare, which he has cast as a step on the path to socialism.
Carson repeatedly accused reporters of twisting his words to fit a narrative that he is unfit for the presidency.
"I mean they are just so ridiculous," he said, to applause from hundreds of national Republican leaders gathered for a retreat in Coronado, Calif.
"They say Carson's insignificant, don't worry about him," Carson said. "Why do they spend so much ink talking about me if they're not worried about me?"
But, as he has before, he confirmed that reports he had plagiarized sections of a book were accurate.
"There were some mistakes made there," he said of the book. "We happened to miss a couple."
Carson spoke at a luncheon on the second day of the Republican National Committee's winter meeting. A popular speaker -- his switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP is an integral part of his pitch -- was greeted with a standing ovation and people swarming him for pictures after his remarks.
He is particularly popular among party conservatives; a movement to draft him to run for president has raised $12 million, according to the New York Times. And he has volunteer leaders in all of Iowa's 99 counties, a show of strength that no other potential presidential candidate yet can claim in the state that holds the first nominating contest in the nation.
Carson, who is African American, has never held elected office, but gained note challenging President Obama on his signature healthcare law.
An absence of political experience has dogged prior candidates, such as businessman
"I will confess, I do not have experience in certain things, like empowering special interest groups and growing the government and wasting taxpayers' money and dishonoring our military and disrespecting our allies and lying to the people and submitting to the P.C. people," he said. "I have no experience in that and I hope to never have experience in that."
Carson said he has seen enthusiastic crowds as he has traveled the country exploring a bid, visiting four or five states a week over the last year.
"I've heard so many people say, 'I've never been involved in politics but now I think I'm going to get involved, and if you run, I'm going to volunteer,' " Carson said.
During his remarks, Carson repeatedly warned that too many in the nation were dependent on the government, and he pointed to his life story. He described being raised by a single mother who refused to be a "victim" despite dire poverty, and who demanded that he study and read.
"The person who has the most to do with what happens in your life -- it's you," he said. "It's not the environment. It's not somebody else."