Big Trouble On Team Carson

As we head into Christmas, there doesn't seem to be much peace on Earth or good will toward men among Ben Carson's advisers.

Ben Carson Profile

As his poll numbers decline and he sees himself becoming eclipsed by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in the polls, there appears to be some chaos in Ben Carson’s Presidential campaign as we head into what is ordinarily a pretty quiet week during ordinary campaign years. It started yesterday when Carson, along with his long-time close adviser Armstrong Williams talked to The Washington Post about expected campaign shake-ups amid Carson’s own frustrations over how things have gone over the past month:

Republican candidate Ben Carson is seeking to take control of his struggling presidential bid amid an increasingly public clash between his top advisers, saying Wednesday that blame for his drop in the polls lies with his campaign and that he plans to shake up his staff in the coming days.

Sitting alone in the basement of his Maryland house, Carson said in an interview with The Washington Post that no one’s job is safe, complained about budgetary management in a campaign that has spent millions, and called some of his top staffers overpaid and ineffective in broadcasting his message.

“I’m looking at every aspect of the campaign right now. Everything is on the table, every job is on the table. And we’re going to analyze it very carefully,” Carson said. “It’s not perfect, and we’re going to work on it.”

“I want to see more efficiency in terms of the way money is utilized,” he added, saying he is frustrated with his campaign being described by critics as a “rat hole” for small-dollar donations.

Carson initially declined to say whether his campaign manager, Barry Bennett, would remain in charge. He was coy and responded by saying changes could come as soon as “tomorrow” and certainly before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

The comments caught many of his advisers off guard, leading to confusion within the campaign’s ranks about his strategy and team for the final stretch before the primaries. They also raised questions about who is making decisions and who holds more influence with Carson. “Dr. Carson is back in charge,” said press secretary Deana Bass when asked about the potential campaign changes. As for Bennett’s role, Bass said of Carson: “This is his campaign, and these are his decisions.”

Just hours later, Carson sought to minimize the scale of the shake-up in a statement saying his senior advisers would remain in place “with my full confidence.”

“We have come a long way and accomplished great things together, and together we look forward to winning in Iowa and beyond,” Carson said. “We are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead.”

But according to two Republicans close to Carson, the retired neurosurgeon has been interviewing consultants for prominent roles in the campaign without Bennett’s knowledge. They said Logan Delany, a Carson confidant, is spearheading the process. The two Republicans spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Disagreements within the campaign’s highest ranks have broken out into the open on numerous occasions, pointing to a persistent and sharp division between Armstrong Williams — Carson’s longtime business manager who is not formally part of the campaign — and Bennett, a Republican operative. Williams and Bennett have been battling over Carson’s image and approach, Republicans said, to the point where they often communicate directly to Carson with competing messages.

On Wednesday, the two also offered competing portraits of a campaign in rapid decline.

“We had our standard 3:30 p.m. call and I asked him about the story. He said he has 100 percent faith in the team,” Bennett told The Post on Wednesday. “Dr. Carson was talking about the campaign and the mechanics, not the people.”

Just hours after sitting down for that interview, though, Carson was seemingly in full reverse:

Ben Carson, whose campaign has come under increasing stress as his polling numbers have declined, suggested on Wednesday a major shake-up was coming, only to seemingly reverse himself hours later.

“My senior team remains in place with my full confidence,” Mr. Carson, the Republican presidential contender, said in a statement issued by his campaign spokesman late in the day.

In interviews with reporters earlier at his Maryland home, Mr. Carson had suggested the opposite, declaring “Everything is on the table, every job is on the table.”

The Associated Press, which reported Mr. Carson’s earlier remarks, said he had spoken without the knowledge of his campaign manager, Barry Bennett. The Washington Post reported Mr. Carson complained that his top aides were overpaid and that his campaign was not spending money efficiently.

But in his later statement, Mr. Carson’s played down any suggestion that heads would roll.

“I have one-hundred percent confidence in my campaign team,” he said. “We have come a long way and accomplished great things together, and together we look forward to winning in Iowa and beyond. We are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead.”

(…)

Staff changes at the top of struggling campaigns are common, but the dysfunction of the Carson campaign has played out openly. His manager, Mr. Bennett, and a spokesman, Doug Watts, have publicly feuded with an outside adviser, Armstrong Williams, a longtime Carson friend who has Mr. Carson’s ear. Another longtime friend, Terry Giles, hired Mr. Bennett and other operatives but was exiled from the campaign over internal differences.

Mr. Giles on Wednesday said he was not in any talks to return to Mr. Carson’s side. Asked on if he thought Mr. Carson was being well served by his staff, Mr. Giles said in a text message, “Ask me that question in two weeks.”

Not long after the above piece appeared on The New York Times’ website, Robert Costa, one of the two reporters who wrote The Washington Post piece chimed in on Twitter:

Clearly, what we’re seeing unfold here, and largely in public thanks to the fact that both sides of a rather obvious split on Team Carson are talking to the media at the same time that they’re trying to talk to each other to deal with their differences, is a campaign that is in rapid decline and is entering the chaos phase as various people around the candidate try to find someone other than themselves to blame. In ordinary circumstances, this is usually the first sign that a campaign is in the free fall stage and that the end will come sooner rather than later, either in the form of mass resignations or firings that lead the candidate to bring in a bunch of new people who have no idea who they’re working with or in a final death spiral that brings the campaign to a quicker than expected end.

The reality, of course, is that Carson’s problems have nothing to do with who’s running his campaign and everything to do with him. The true source of all of Ben Carson’s problems can be traced to the events of the past six weeks or so, when he finally started to be subjected to scrutiny once it appeared as if he might be a real contender against Donald Trump in Iowa. To put it mildly, the more we learned about Ben Carson, the worse he looked even to the very conservative voters who were initially attracted to him. He demonstrated ignorance about the way government operates as well as the details of domestic policy issues. He demonstrated what can be called at best an odd relationship with the truth, including many of the details of the personal biography upon which he based much of his campaign. Typical of many candidates, this increased pressure led Carson to begin attacking the media notwithstanding the fact that it was clear that he was not being treated unfairly. What proved fatal to the Carson campaign, though, was the one area where he had never displayed much awareness to begin with, foreign policy, especially in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. Starting in the most recent Republican debate on Fox News Channel, Carson displayed utter incoherence about basic foreign policy matters, something that has even been confirmed by those brought in to advise him on the issue.  The result of all this was a rapid decline in the polls that has continued to this day. At the beginning of November, for example, Carson had a small lead over Trump in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, garnering a 24.8% average to Trump’s 24.6%. In the nearly six or so weeks that have followed, he’s fallen to fourth place with an average of 10.0% in national polling. In Iowa, he peaked in the same early November time period with a nine point lead over Trump in the polling average. Now, he’s down in fourth place behind Ted Cruz, Trump, and Marco Rubio. In both averages, as well as in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, Carson’s decline has been just as rapid and just as steep. A decline of that nature isn’t one that can be said to be solely due to campaign advisers.

That being said, there do seem to be some issues with Carson’s campaign. The Wall Street Journal, for example, noted earlier this week that his campaign was burning through cash at an extraordinary rate. In October alone, for example, the campaign apparently “raised $8.8 million in October and spent $9.5 million—putting the retired neurosurgeon’s effort under water months before the first early-state voters caucus and cast ballots.” While this kind of burn rate might make one think that Carson is putting up a lot of ads, that simply hasn’t been true so far. Nor is it apparently the case that he’s been spending campaign money jetting around in a private plane. Instead, much of the explanation for the burn rate seems to lie in the direct-mail fundraising efforts that he has used to raise money throughout the campaign. While this method of fundraising can be quite successful in getting people to send in money, it is also the most expensive, least efficient way to do so. In the end, the campaign ends up losing money as it both pays ordinary expenses and the expenses related to fundraising.

Added together, none of this bodes well for Carson, but at this point it seems clear that even cleaning house at Team Carson isn’t going to save him.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mark Ivey says:

    They better be wearing anti stab body armor around Doc….

  2. Or have a big belt buckle

  3. Sandy Greave says:

    Your caricature of Dr. Carson is right out of Alinsky’s primer or Goebbels’ playbook — satirize your victim without addressing any facts.

    What bugs you most about Ben? Being conservative? Being black and not being a DNC toady? Being funded by “little people” (your ‘Critics say his campaign is a [contribution] rat hole for small contributors instead of socialist currency manipulators with funny accents?

    Doctor Carson appeals to non-Yankee fans because he is brilliant, kind, well grounded in American history, patriotic, and committed to passing on the American dream of service and excellence. I pity you for your ignorant arrogance.

    Just a little guy retiree here. Spoke with Ben earlier this week in a small group. He is a great man. Too bad the trolls of the left don’t get it.

  4. Mu says:

    How can you satirize the Carson campaign? A word by word transcript is already hilarious to begin with. Everything one reads shows that either Carson lives in lala land and is completely divorced from reality, or his campaign staff is doing a fantastic job of isolating him from the unpleasant fact that a lot of commercial fund raising companies get rich of his name while starving his campaign of any real money.

  5. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    without addressing any facts.

    here’s a fact…. despite his calm and gentlemanly demeanor, many of the facts that he believes are true are actually demonstrably false or inaccurate. A complete listing is provided by any fact-checker.

    IMO, not presidential material.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sandy Greave: When the circular firing squad starts shooting Sandy, people like you will be the first victims. I’m sure Carson is a really nice guy but Presidenting isn’t brain surgery.

  7. steve says:

    “Your caricature of Dr. Carson is right out of Alinsky’s primer or Goebbels’ playbook ”

    Actually your response is right out of Goebbel’s playbook. Doug notes many reasons why the campaign is not going well, including ignorance on domestic policy, foreign policy, personal dishonesty and a lack of grasp on basic facts. Look, I know lots of physicians who have worked with the guy. He was a good surgeon. He is a lousy presidential candidate. You can field an ignorant candidate if he is a total blowhard and an as@hole. The GOP loves that. However, he is basically just nice guy with minimal leadership ability and no grasp of policy detail.

    Steve

  8. Tony W says:

    . To put it mildly, the more we learned about Ben Carson, the worse he looked even to the very conservative voters who were initially attracted to him. He demonstrated ignorance about the way government operates as well as the details of domestic policy issues. He demonstrated what can be called at best an odd relationship with the truth, including many of the details of the personal biography upon which he based much of his campaign. Typical of many candidates, this increased pressure led Carson to begin attacking the media notwithstanding the fact that it was clear that he was not being treated unfairly. What proved fatal to the Carson campaign, though, was the one area where he had never displayed much awareness to begin with, foreign policy, especially in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. Starting in the most recent Republican debate on Fox News Channel, Carson displayed utter incoherence about basic foreign policy matters

    What I find fascinating is that each of those qualities that supposedly doomed the Carson campaign, exist in the Trump campaign and seem to boost Mr. Trump.

    The big difference is bluster. Carson is terrible at it, his demeanor makes him appear meek and weak – in addition to being as willfully uninformed on policy and diplomacy as Trump and Cruz. That’s a fatal combination.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    Your caricature of Dr. Carson is right out of Alinsky’s primer or Goebbels’ playbook — satirize your victim without addressing any facts.

    Doctor Carson appeals to non-Yankee fans because he is brilliant, kind, well grounded in American history, patriotic, and committed to passing on the American dream of service and excellence. I pity you for your ignorant arrogance.

    I find it interesting how some conservatives cling to their phony Nazi and Alinsky Playbook analogies.

    And, yes, I can definitely understand how conservatives can see the brilliance of a man who: (1) equates modern liberalism with Nazi Germany, (2) considers ACA to be as bad as slavery, and (3) observed that being gay is a choice because a lot of people into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay. That’s Area 51 level brilliance, right there.

    that men go into to prison and come out gay.

  10. Guarneri says:

    “However, he is basically just nice guy with minimal leadership ability and no grasp of policy detail.”

    As opposed the prior and current front running Dem who have no leadership ability and horrible policy instincts…….

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Sandy Greave: Thank you for that insight into the conservative mind.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @Sandy Greave:

    Doctor Carson appeals to non-Yankee fans because he is brilliant,

    If he were brilliant, he wouldn’t keep saying incredibly stupid and ignorant things. He is (or was) a fabulous surgeon. That’s not the same thing as being either really smart or really well informed.

    kind

    If he were kind he would not be so eager to take away the civil liberties of large groups of people out of fear.

    well grounded in American history

    Now you’re just making stuff up.

    patriotic

    We agree about that one, with the proviso that the America he loves doesn’t include a lot of current Americans.

    and committed to passing on the American dream of service and excellenceoppressing non-Christians and gays.

    Fixed that for you.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @steve: And black, don’t forget that part. Now that his popularity is slipping, that quality has become just another millstone around his neck with the colorblind, big tent, GOP/true conservative voters.

  14. jewelbomb says:

    @Sandy Greave: “non-Yankee fans?”

  15. steve says:

    “As opposed the prior and current front running Dem who have no leadership ability ”

    Meh. They understand policy and how government functions, you simply don’t like anyone who doesn’t support tax cuts for the wealthy. As to leadership, he has not been able to lead the the GOP Congress, but then neither have they been able to work with each other.

    Steve

  16. charon says:

    @jewelbomb:

    Conservative lore includes skepticism of Hilary Clinton’s professed baseball preferences.

  17. charon says:

    @charon: Which is how you can tell Sandy Greaves is a genuine conservative and genuine Carson supporter, and not some sort of put-on.