Two more staffers have left Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s campaign, a spokesman told MSNBC on Friday morning, following the departure of three top aides on Thursday.
Campaign spokeswoman Deana Bass said only that the two additional staffers were junior staff members, but declined to identify them by name.
Bass sought to downplay the campaign’s issues after five staffers – including the campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, and communications director – resigned, casting some doubt on the campaign’s prospects.
“This idea that the campaign is in a free fall and chaos and simply not true,” Bass said, disputing a report that 20 campaign staffers had resigned. She characterized the changes as typical “staffing changes.”
Bob Dees, a retired U.S. Army Major General Bob Dees and foreign policy advisor to Carson, will take over as campaign chairman and senior strategist Ed Brookover will be the new campaign manager.
The resignations come as the candidate is plunging in the polls just 30 days before the Iowa caucuses.
Tensions peaked this week when the candidate gave interviews to media outlets – without the knowledge of his then-campaign manager – about possible staffing changes. Carson later backtracked, saying he had complete confidence in his senior staff. Just days later, two top aides announced their departure.
On Thursday, campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts announced they’d resigned; Bennett cited disagreements with Carson’s longtime friend Armstrong Williams, whom he said had misguided the candidate and created problems for the campaign. Deputy campaign manager Lisa Cohen resigned later that day, citing her fear for the campaign’s future without Bennett and Watts.
In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Bennett said Williams was “undercutting any good news we had” by creating a new problem. Another source familiar with the campaign’s internal workings told NBC News that Williams was an “ongoing problem since day one,” and said the campaign’s recent struggles in polls and fundraising are “all self-inflicted wounds created by Armstrong Williams.”
Williams disputes this. In a brief phone conversation with NBC News on Thursday, he said he knew Bennett and Watts “had issues with me” but held no ill will towards them, and that he hadn’t orchestrated the staffing changes. “It’s easy to blame. I have nothing but praise for these guys. I knew they had issues with me, we worked around them — it’s like a family,” he said.
Williams’ role in the campaign has always been murky. He regularly appears on television to advocate for the retired neurosurgeon, at times disputing what the campaign says, but maintains that he doesn’t have any role in the campaign and is merely a friend.
Though Bennett told NBC News that Carson had urged him to reconsider and stay on with the campaign, Carson released a statement Thursday calling the changes “necessary,”
“As we enter a new phase of the campaign cycle, it is necessary to invigorate my campaign with a strategy that more aggressively shares my vision and world-view with the American people,” he said. “I commend Barry Bennett and Doug Watts for their efforts to help me share my vision for America. Over a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Americans encouraged me to listen to the call and seek the office of president of the greatest nation the world has ever known. I am ready to be president and believe that my unique experience and background is what is needed to heal, inspire and revive America.”