Just hours before the next Republican presidential debate Thursday, yet another senior staffer is leaving Dr. Ben Carson’s campaign.
Campaign finance chairman Dean Parker resigned after Politico reported that Parker was paying himself large sums for a role that is typically unpaid in other campaigns. Parker argued in an appearance on MSNBC that he was doing the role differently, traveling constantly with the candidate. And though he was initially unpaid, Parker said he started getting paid recently.
“When the article came out that they were trying to mask and mis-allege what really happened was,” Parker told Kate Snow on MSNBC, “it was time to say, ‘You know what, I’m not gonna let him have me be the focus of his campaign during a debate or this season getting so close to Iowa.’”Parker is the sixth senior level staffer to depart Carson’s campaign in the last two weeks: the candidate’s campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, communication director, general counsel and operations director all left their roles. Two other junior staffers also departed. Many of those staffers have been replaced, the campaign told MSNBC, but operations director Renee Burchard will continue volunteering and general counsel Michael Zarlenga remains on as “outside counsel.”
Despite campaign staffers’ attempts to downplay the changes as the usual workings of a campaign, and the candidate’s assurances that he was rejuvenated by the influx of new senior staff, the changes are a massive upheaval for the campaign coming just weeks before the all-important Iowa caucuses. It’s a key early voting state for Carson: more than two thirds of all Republican caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State are evangelical or born-again Christians, a group that helped Carson surge to the top of the polls in the state last year.
But after the race zeroed in on national security, Carson lost his footing and his polling lead, stumbling in interviews where he wasn’t able to answer questions and asserting falsehoods about the Middle East. Amid staffing changes, Carson has sought to push back against the narrative that foreign policy is a weakness for him, naming retired Gen. Bob Dees as the campaign chairman and pushing out his views on terrorism and refugees regularly on the trail.
Senior communications strategist Jason Osborne – who in part replaced communications director Doug Watts, who resigned on New Year’s Eve – called the staffing changes “distractions” but pushed back against the idea that the campaign will struggle in the upcoming primaries. Osborne argued that the campaign’s ground game is in place and ready to carry the candidate to the nomination.
UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Iowa as the “Buckeye State.” It is known as the “Hawkeye State.”