Sunday 18 March 2018

Carson's White House bid in turmoil as top aides quit

Republican Ben Carson. Photo: Reuters
Republican Ben Carson. Photo: Reuters

Emily Flitter

American Republican Ben Carson's 2016 presidential bid was thrown into chaos yesterday when his campaign manager and some 20 other staff members quit.

Rumours about infighting, and tensions over plummeting poll numbers and negative media coverage, are believed to have boiled over.

Barry Bennett, who oversaw Mr Carson's rapid rise to the top tier of Republican contenders and his later fall, said he quit over differences with another top adviser to Mr Carson, Armstrong Williams. Specifically, Mr Bennett blamed Mr Williams for an interview he gave last week to the 'Washington Post' suggesting the campaign was in disarray.

"It's one of the stupidest things I've ever seen a candidate do," Mr Bennett said.

Things had "boiled over" with Mr Williams, Mr Bennett said. "For the past seven weeks, I've been doing nothing but putting out Armstrong Williams-started fires," Mr Bennett said.

He also claimed Mr Williams was behind a story in the 'New York Times' that suggested Mr Carson was out of his depth on foreign policy.

Mr Carson's communications director, Doug Watts, also resigned due to differences with Mr Williams, Mr Bennett said. Some 20 staff in total left, he said. Among them was deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen.

Mr Williams, a political commentator who holds no official role with the campaign, said he was "shocked" by Mr Bennett's criticism. "They're giving me a lot more credit than I deserve," he said.

He suggested Mr Bennett and Mr Watts left the campaign rather than be fired. "Right now, they're upset and they need a scapegoat, and I'm the scapegoat," Mr Williams said.

Support for Mr Carson has fallen ahead of the first contest - on February 1 in the state of Iowa - for the Republican nomination in the November 8 election.

The retired neurosurgeon now places fourth in many national opinion polls after surging into the second slot behind the front-runner, real estate mogul Donald Trump, in the autumn.

With the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, elevating national security concerns among voters, Carson has been criticised by rivals for his lack of foreign policy experience.

He has never held elected office. Craig Robinson, former political director for Iowa's Republican Party, said Carson's lack of visibility in Iowa damaged him even though he had the chance to capitalise on his much-touted status as a political outsider.

In spite of the poll numbers, Carson's campaign on Wednesday announced a fourth-quarter fundraising haul of about $23 million, and Bennett said Carson remained in a strong position.

"He's got millions of dollars on hand," Bennett said. "He should be able to do something with that."

Irish Independent

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