It didn't take long for Ben Carson to learn that politics is unforgiving, especially for relative neophytes.
No sooner had the retired neurosurgeon and tea party darling announced that he was forming an exploratory committee for a 2016 presidential bid, than he landed his foot squarely in his mouth when he suggested that prison makes people gay.
In an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo Wednesday, Dr. Carson said homosexuality is “absolutely” a choice.
"Because a lot of people who go into prison, go into prison straight – and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question," Carson said.
Of course, the real show was likely backstage, where Carson's PR person probably performed an impressive cringe/shudder/forehead-slap, perhaps the greatest the nascent 2016 race has yet seen.
But Carson learns quickly. He issued his first post-announcement apology Wednesday night on Facebook, and a fairly good one, at that.
“In a recent interview on CNN, I realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues,” the statement begins, continuing, “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.
“No excuses. I deeply regret my statement and I promise you, on this journey, I may err again, but unlike politicians when I make an error I will take full responsibility and never hide or parse words.”
Even in his apology, Carson continued to infuriate some Americans when he suggested that the science on homosexuality is still murky.
"Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality," he said.
And along the way, he broke several rules of political apologies.
Rule #1: Accept responsibility.
In his apology, he said, "I am not a politician and I answered a question without really thinking about it thoroughly."
Arguably, Carson became a politician the moment he announced his exploratory committee, and, one might argue, far sooner, like when he launched himself onto the national stage when he famously lambasted President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.
Rules #2, 3, and 4: Apologize swiftly, don't blame the news media, and don't play victim.
Presumably, on the long walk back to write an apology on Facebook, Carson stopped in at Sean Hannity's radio program, where he complained about the "liberal press," and vowed never to do pre-taped interviews or talk about gay marriage again.
“First of all, it was a 25-minute interview, they chopped – and you see what part they emphasized. We talked about some really important things, none of that was brought up. But, I did learn something very important, for certain networks, never do a pre-taped interview," he told Hannity.
“I simply have decided, that I’m not going to really talk about that issue anymore because every time I’m gaining momentum, the liberal press says ‘let’s talk about gay rights.’ And I’m just not going to fall for that anymore," he said.
Is it reasonable for a candidate to think he can run for the nation's highest office and refuse to talk about one of its foremost issues?
This is not the first time Carson has made controversial statements about homosexuality. Two years ago, he compared gay people to “NAMBLA [and] people who believe in bestiality.”
Then, too, he flubbed an apology and blamed critics for misquoting him, before eventually walking back his comments.
Clearly, Carson has a thing or two to learn about apologizing like a politician.
But it's early. The 2016 campaign should provide plenty of learning opportunities for all the would-be candidates.