By Angela Moon
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's rant against fellow contender Ben Carson on Thursday, in which he said Carson had a "pathological" temper as a young man, quickly became a lively topic on social media on Friday.
Speaking in Iowa late Thursday, Trump cast doubt on Carson's often-reported story of lunging at someone with a hunting knife as a child, an episode Carson says led him to Christianity.
The outspoken billionaire real-estate mogul said the incident showed Carson had a "pathological" temper.
"If you're pathological, there's no cure for that," Trump said. "If you're a child molester, there's no cure. They can't stop you."
In response on Friday, Carson recommended praying for Trump.
The reaction on social media was mixed, although many described Trump's attack as immature.
A Twitter user with the handle @JoeDelgadoJr tweeted to Trump's official account @realDonaldTrump: "You need to recant this 'stupid' people of Iowa statement.. and child molester comparison was not a mature attack."
Another user with the handle @GregB00 said: "Even for Trump, comparing your primary political opponent to a *child molester* HAS to be going too far. Doesn't it?"
Some tried to clarify Trump's statement, arguing that he did not accuse Carson of being a child molester.
A Twitter user with the handle @ClassicSophie said: "He didn't call him a child molester but compared his 'pathological disease' to being a pedo, no cure."
This is not the first time Trump has been criticized for his bold remarks.
In September, Trump mocked fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina's looks, saying: "Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"
Fiorina fired back at Trump on Thursday after his comments on Carson.
On her official Facebook page, she wrote: "Donald, sorry, I've got to interrupt again," referencing a moment from Tuesday night's televised GOP debate, when Trump called her out for interrupting other candidates.
"You would know something about pathological. How was that meeting with Putin? Or Wharton? Or your self-funded campaign? Anyone can turn a multi-million dollar inheritance into more money, but all the money in the world won't make you as smart as Ben Carson," she wrote.
With a year left to the 2016 presidential election, Trump was ahead of Carson on social media sentiment, according to Thomson Reuters data.
However, on a daily basis, his score has plummeted over the past two days, from a positive 14.5 on Wednesday to a negative 12.24 Thursday and a negative 12.22 on Friday, a Thomson Reuters social media sentiment analysis tool showed.
It wasn't clear whether the decline was due to Trump's attack on Carson.
The Thomson Reuters tool tracks and aggregates social media mentions of a candidate to derive a score based on the ratio of positive tweets against negative ones.
(Additional reporting by Melissa Fares; Data compiled by Connie Yee, Thomson Reuters F&R; Editing by Bernadette Baum)