Having watched more than a few of these campaigns unfold, I would venture to say that when you see a presidential primary team abandoning ship it’s usually because the campaign is beginning to look like a lost cause and the staff is still hoping to catch on with somebody who has a better chance. But that’s not the case with Ben Carson’s bid. The poll of polls still has the popular neurosurgeon within two points of Bush, Walker and Rubio and the freshest Fox News survey has him in a statistical tie for the lead. That’s what makes the latest Carson news so surprising. The major part of the staff at the top of his campaign team has walked out to go work with Super PACs or simply seeking greener pastures.
The presidential candidacy of Ben Carson, a tea party star who has catapulted into the top tier of Republican contenders, has been rocked by turmoil with the departures of four senior campaign officials and widespread disarray among his allied super PACs.
In interviews Friday, Carson’s associates described a political network in tumult, saying the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign chairman, national finance chairman, deputy campaign manager and general counsel have resigned since Carson formally launched his bid last month in Detroit. They have not been replaced, campaign aides said.
The moves gutted the core of Carson’s apparatus and left the 63-year-old first-time candidate with only a handful of experienced advisers at his side as he navigates the fluid, crowded and high-stakes contest for the Republican nomination.
There have been questions swirling around the Super PACs supporting Carson since the beginning. We got into a lot of those controversies when Doug and I interviewed John Philip Sousa IV, head of Run Ben Run, on Politinerds back in January. Both that PAC and Carson’s remaining staff insist that there’s still no friction between Run Ben Run and the candidate, though issues regarding fundraising and expenditures remain.
The separate question here is why the core staffing team would leave, particularly if they plan on supporting Carson from the outside. Why do that when you can be in the heat of the action right there with the candidate? The answers coming from Armstrong Williams – the remaining campaign manager who is now pretty much running things single handed from the top – aren’t very comforting. Williams provided a few comments for the WaPo article above which should give pause (at a minimum) to any of Carson’s supporters around the country. (Emphasis added)
Williams portrayed Carson as a candidate who is still learning the nuances of politics. He said Carson is studying up on issues and is uninterested in campaign mechanics.
On the road, Carson receives hearty receptions, but his acquaintances said he is most content after public events to retreat to a pool table, where he touts the hand-eye coordination that made him a renowned surgeon. He also likes to do brain teasers or play golf.
Carson occasionally drops by his Alexandria campaign headquarters, but his main interaction with staffers is just once a week, at 10 a.m. on Sundays, when he participates in a conference call to go over his schedule for the coming week.
“Dr. Carson doesn’t get involved in the minutia,” Williams said. “You have to understand his personality. He’s informed, but this whole process is new to him, and he’s relying on the judgment of others.”
Williams is probably the man most on the inside of Carson Central and has been a close associate for a very long time. To hear those comments coming directly from him, as opposed to some unnamed “person with knowledge of the situation” on background, is beyond disturbing. It paints a portrait of someone who may be principled, brilliant and hold a great deal of potential but who is absolutely not engaged in the ugly business of running a national campaign.
It may be distasteful to think of things this way, but there are two nearly unrelated skill sets required to be President of the United States. The obvious ones we hope for are all the hallmarks of a great, decisive leader and problem solver. They need not be listed yet again here. But in order to ever have the chance to exercise those abilities, the candidate must also be a skilled politician and have the ability to create and manage a complex campaign team and strategy. You don’t get to rule unless you can win the election.
When one of Carson’s closest people is describing him as being uninterested in campaign mechanics when he occasionally drops by the headquarters, there is plenty to worry about. One conference call per week dialed into by a guy who largely relies on the judgement of others is not the formula for winning a battle of this magnitude, nor does it speak very highly of Carson’s management style and suitability to build a competent cabinet and White House staff.
Ben Carson may think he can largely cruise through the summer and not worry about staffing until closer to the first primary, but the race has already begun. If the description provided by Armstrong Williams is even remotely close to the reality inside Carson HQ, it’s really not that much of a mystery why the experienced staffers would be bailing out. This is starting to sound like a disaster waiting to happen.