Under the best of circumstances, Ben Carson has been a long-shot presidential candidate, facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles. He’s a political amateur, with a penchant for exaggeration, who knows very little about public policy, governing, or current events.
But add to this unfortunate brew a political organization that’s divided against itself and the result is something far worse.
Last week, as much of the political world was winding down in advance of the holidays, the Republican presidential hopeful sat down for interviews with the Associated Press and the Washington Post, in which he spoke openly about a major staff shake-up in his operation. “I’m looking at every aspect of the campaign right now,” Carson said. “Everything is on the table, every job is on the table.”
Both reports included a striking detail: Carson participated in the interviews without informing his campaign manager, Barry Bennett.
Soon after, however, Team Carson quickly changed direction, announcing in a written statement that there would be no major changes.
Hours after suggesting in an interview Wednesday that he’s considering major “personnel changes” to his troubled campaign, presidential candidate Ben Carson said in a written statement that he has “100 percent confidence” in his current team.In the statement, released hours after a pair of interviews in which he hinted at a major staff shakeup, Carson said, “We are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead, but my senior team remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan.”
By Wednesday evening, Carson appeared on CNN to distance himself from the comments he’d made on the record just hours earlier.
The fact that Carson’s entire operation has struggled with internal strife and suspect managerial decisions has been evident for months. Reports that Team Carson has been “hemorrhaging cash” have only reinforced concerns about the campaign’s structure and leadership.
But these latest contradictory interviews and statements – and the unacknowledged drama surrounding them – obviously makes matters worse.
If everything else were going well for Carson – if his poll support appeared strong, if he were well positioned to perform well in early nominating states, etc. – it might be easier to overlook his campaign’s internal turmoil. But with his support in decline, every aspect of Carson’s operation is faltering at the worst possible time.
The Washington Post characterized Carson’s crisis as a “civil war,” adding that the candidate himself bears responsibility for the chaos that surrounds him: “When you run for the House or seek statewide office, you learn a lot about how campaigns work. When you try to start in politics with a presidential campaign, standard rookie mistakes – like not dealing well with conflicting advice and not having clearly delineated lines of authority – get magnified. Dwight Eisenhower was our last president who had never held elected office before seeking the presidency, but he had commanded the Allied invasion on D-Day.”
One gets the impression that Carson never thought any of this through. His plan – I use the word loosely – was to put himself out there as a righteous voice with an impressive personal history. Details like campaign infrastructure and organization were pesky annoyances that the retired neurosurgeon knew nothing about and couldn’t be bothered to figure out.
When Carson’s campaign comes to end, it’s likely he’ll blame his aides, his finance team, the media, and his better performing rivals, but it’ll be the candidate himself who sealed his own fate.
Reflecting on the nomination fight, Carson told the Post, “[G]oing through a process like this is pretty brutal. Everybody told me that it would be, so that doesn’t particularly surprise me.” If he knew this was coming, why isn’t Carson better prepared?