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Carson got caught: Who stands to benefit

A major bombshell rocked the 2016 campaign on Friday as Politico reported that Ben Carson, the current GOP front-runner, made up the story that he received a full scholarship to West Point.

The report, following other questions raised about claims in the memoir "Gifted Hands," is a devastating blow to Carson, who came out of relative obscurity to lead the Republican field on the strength of his appeal to evangelical Christian voters and his calm, soft-spoken demeanor.

The main question now is whether the revelation will quickly drive Carson out of the race. And if it does, where will his growing cadre of supporters go? One significant beneficiary of a Carson exit could be Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is trying to appeal to the same base of conservative Christians.

Republican Dr. Ben Carson
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images
Republican Dr. Ben Carson

Cruz has already positioned himself as a possible heir to Donald Trump supporters, should the real estate billionaire eventually leave the race. If he can add Carson supporters as well, Cruz could emerge as a powerful force to potentially win the Republican nomination. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida will also make a play for Carson supporters but he runs in a somewhat different lane, with more appeal to establishment and Wall Street Republicans than staunch tea party conservatives.

It is hard to imagine how Carson can recover from the revelation that he simply made up the story that he received a full scholarship to one of America's top military academies.

In his book, Carson wrote: "I was offered a full scholarship to West Point."

But pressed by Politico, the Carson campaign admitted on Friday that was not the case.

"He was introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors," a campaign official told Politico's Kyle Cheney. "They told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission."

Following the Politico story on Friday, Carson told The New York Times: "I don't remember all the specific details. Because I had done so extraordinarily well you know I was told that someone like me – they could get a scholarship to West Point. But I made it clear I was going to pursue a career in medicine."

"It was, you know, an informal 'with a record like yours we could easily get you a scholarship to West Point.'"

The West Point story comes after multiple media outlets could find no evidence to support Carson's claims of a wild, violent past that he overcame through his relationship with God. Carson claims in the book to have attacked his mother with a hammer and attempted to stab someone in an argument.

Carson has stuck by those claims but offered no proof that they actually occurred. Trump on Thursday attacked Carson for potentially lying about the stories. "The Carson story is either a total fabrication or, if true, even worse — trying to hit mother over the head with a hammer or stabbing friend!"

So far in the race, Carson has been able to play off negative stories as the product of a biased and unfair media. This could work with reports on his claim that the Egyptian pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to hold grain rather than for the entombment of pharaohs. But saying you received a scholarship to West Point when you really did not has nothing to do with media bias. And who knows how many more things in Carson's book will turn out not to be true. His campaign is over, the question is whether Carson knows it yet, and where his many supporters will turn next.

UPDATED: This column was updated to reflect revisions to the original Politico story, and to include Carson's comments to The New York Times.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.