Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson criticized "purveyors of division" and said the country needs to move in a new direction as he kicked off the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — better known as CPAC — on Thursday.
Carson was the first featured speaker at the annual event at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, just outside of Washington, which will feature a parade of more than a dozen potential Republican presidential contenders hoping to win over conservative activists.
Carson, who has built a loyal following of fans who were highly visible on Thursday, steered clear of heated rhetoric and criticizing President Barack Obama in his speech, saying that outlining all the failures of the current administration would be "too depressing."
Instead, he touted the benefits of health savings accounts and home schooling, and criticized the current welfare system, arguing that it has only exacerbated the problems it was supposed to fix and made poor people dependent.
"We need to move in a very different direction," he said.
In a question-and-answer session following his brief remarks, Carson was asked what he would do to combat the Islamic State group of extremists.
"We have two choices: We can wait and see what they're going to do and react to it. Or we can destroy them first," he told the crowd. "The mission that I would give our military is to destroy them first."