A presidential candidate’s personal advisers can occasionally offer insights no one else has. They see White House hopefuls in unguarded and unscripted moments, giving the advisers a unique perspective.
It was of interest in 2012, for example, when Mitt Romney’s advisers conceded the campaign had invested so little energy in focusing on national security that even they were “uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”
But the New York Times reported late yesterday on an even more striking example. Ben Carson’s advisers conceded that “intense tutoring” for the retired right-wing neurosurgeon has so far had “little effect” on the candidate’s preparedness on matters of foreign affairs.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
The article highlighted Carson’s recent appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” where he was asked to identify a country he would reach out to join an anti-ISIS coalition. The Republican candidate, despite multiple opportunities, couldn’t name one.
“He’s been briefed on it so many times,” Carson aide Armstrong Williams told the Times. “I guess he just froze.”
Nothing says “presidential preparedness” like “I guess he just froze.”
Responding to the article, a Carson campaign spokesperson downplayed Duane Clarridge’s role as an adviser to the candidate. “[Clarridge] is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country,” the campaign said in a statement to Business Insider. “Mr. Clarridge’s input to Dr. Carson is appreciated but he is clearly not one of Dr. Carson’s top advisers. For The New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices.”
There are, however, two rather obvious problems with the response. The first is that the Carson campaign specifically encouraged the New York Times to contact Duane Clarridge. If his perspective is irrelevant, and his first-hand knowledge of Carson’s knowledge is not to be taken seriously, why did the campaign make him available for an interview?
And second, if Team Carson is suddenly eager to characterize Clarridge as some kind of doddering old man, “coming to the end of a long career,” why did the campaign welcome him as one of the candidate’s top tutors?
I’m not entirely convinced revelations like these will necessarily hurt Carson’s candidacy – he is, after all, a great example of post-knowledge politics – and many of his most ardent supporters will probably assume the New York Times is part of some kind of anti-Carson conspiracy.
But for everyone else, Carson’s presidential qualifications, or lack thereof, have come into very sharp focus.