Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ben Carson's Campaign Implodes

by JASmius

The presidential candidacy of Ben Carson, a tea party star who has catapulted into the top tier of Republican contenders, has been rocked by turmoil with the departures of four senior campaign officials and widespread disarray among his allied super PACs.

In interviews Friday, Carson’s associates described a political network in tumult, saying the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign chairman, national finance chairman, deputy campaign manager and general counsel have resigned since Carson formally launched his bid last month in Detroit. They have not been replaced, campaign aides said.

The moves gutted the core of Carson’s apparatus and left the sixty-three-year-old first-time candidate with only a handful of experienced advisers at his side as he navigates the fluid, crowded and high-stakes contest for the Republican nomination.

I can hear the "Run, Ben, Run!" crowd now - these defectors are "turncoats," "traitors," they got "bought off," etc. Any finger-pointing excuse to escape the reality that perhaps, just perhaps, when these four political professionals got to see how their candidate rolls on a day-to-day basis, they realized that what had looked good on paper just isn't going to work in practice:

[Armstrong] Williams [the only top Carson campaign poobah left] portrayed Carson as a candidate who is still learning the nuances of politics. He said Carson is studying up on issues and is uninterested in campaign mechanics.

On the road, Carson receives hearty receptions, but his acquaintances said he is most content after public events to retreat to a pool table, where he touts the hand-eye coordination that made him a renowned surgeon. He also likes to do brain teasers or play golf.

Carson occasionally drops by his Alexandria campaign headquarters, but his main interaction with staffers is just once a week, at 10 a.m. on Sundays, when he participates in a conference call to go over his schedule for the coming week.

“Dr. Carson doesn’t get involved in the minutia,” Williams said. “You have to understand his personality. He’s informed, but this whole process is new to him, and he’s relying on the judgment of others.” [emphases added]

Or, in other words, Dr. Carson doesn't have the "fire in the belly," and even if he did, he wouldn't know what to do with it. Which political pros, and even a pajamaed hack like your humble pundit, can easily recognize. And the four top Carsonites decided their time was being wasted on a poseur/vanity candidate and decided to go elsewhere where their talents could be put to better use.

Now don't get me wrong; I actually sympathize with BC. Part of it is simply human nature. If I suddenly had a whole posse of fans and supporters across the country telling me how great I am and how much they love what I have to say and how I should be running for president because the country needs me, etc., etc., etc., it'd be a very heady thing, and a very difficult thing to which to say no. Plus, in my case, not having a net worth in eight figures and beholding the income-generating possibilities (See why I'd never make a good pol? I'm too gosh-darned candid) that could set up myself and my family for life, it would be, for me, well-nigh irresistible.

- Me, almost seven months ago

And now, after a meteoric rise and a three month ride on top over the late summer and early fall, Gentle Ben has come 'round full circle to the disarray in which his campaign began, and for the exact same reasons:

Three of Ben Carson's high-ranking advisers, including campaign manager Barry Bennett, quit Thursday following an internal power struggle, a sharp decline in the polls and a week of confusion about who would remain on the retired neurosurgeon's presidential campaign team.

"Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately," said departed communications director Doug Watts in a statement to the Washington Post. "We respect the candidate and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status." Hours later, Carson’s deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen also submitted her resignation....

At the heart of it were simmering tensions between Bennett and Williams. Bennett, an experienced GOP operative, wanted the campaign to be more traditional in its setup, fundraising and messaging. Williams, who has known Carson for more than two decades, thought Bennett’s approach did not bring out the candidate's strengths.

And, to Williams' credit, he may have been right, at least in some ways.  For a while, anyway.  But not ultimately, given how the game abruptly changed after Paris and San Bernardino and Dr. C wasn't able to adapt to it.

It was a classic divide between the candidate’s friends and professional aides, with each side believing it was working in Carson’s best interests. Carson, making his first run for office at age sixty-four, has been enamored with the idea that upstarts and non-professionals could upset the political class....

Given Dr. Carson's brilliance, it's difficult to believe he could succumb to such nonsense, which leads me to believe that this idea was force-fed to him by his friends and fans via endless, ego-stroking repetition versus him originating it himself.

The real breaking point came two days before Christmas when Williams and Carson decided together, without Bennett's knowledge, to invite the Washington Post and the Associated Press to Carson’s Maryland mansion to discuss, among other topics, a staff shake-up.

Sound like a pure power-play by Williams, doesn't it?

When asked during that interview whether Bennett would stay on, Carson responded: "All of these things are on the table for consideration."

The campaign followed that interview with a confusing statement from Carson that expressed "100% confidence" in his advisers.

Either the Doc is weak and wishy-washy, or he's putty in Williams' hands.  Neither is any kind of confidence-builder of what a Carson presidency would mean for the country.  Think about such vacillation and double-talk in a national security context.

But by then Bennett felt burned by Carson and believed Williams was taking control of the campaign.


He also called it a "stupid move" for Williams to urge Carson to talk to reporters about the campaign's unrest....

Admit and promote your own campaign's weaknesses to a hostile press that already hates you and considers you to be an Uncle Tom racial turncoat?  "Stupid move" is a sweet euphemism.

Just one month earlier, Carson insisted to reporters that Williams had "nothing to do with the campaign." Yet by late December, Williams and Carson had been huddling for weeks, discussing possible changes as Carson’s poll numbers tumbled. Meanwhile, Carson had been holding separate daily conversations with Bennett about tweaking the campaign....

Translation: Williams was blaming Carson's poll collapse on his professional advisors (The usual Tea Party vilification of GOP political consultants, which is oftentimes justified but not in this case) rather than where it belonged, on the candidate and his complete absence of qualifications for the job he's seeking.  It's almost like the retired neurosurgeon regurgitated what he was told to say by the most recent advisor to get hold of him.

Take additional note of that last insight of mine from early June on the money-making and "brand"-establishing possibilities of being "drafted" into a national campaign.  I didn't put inordinate emphasis on it because Dr. Carson is already very wealthy, but evidently lucre was a prime motivation for his friends versus, you know, votes, the silly idea under which his professional advisers had been misconceivably laboring:

Several operatives in early voting States, and Iowa in particular, have charged that the campaign has relied too heavily on organic support and online fundraising without making sufficient attempts to organize that energy in a more tangible way. Others accused the campaign of misusing its funds, reinvesting the bulk of its earnings into raising more money, chartered flights and into bloated campaign salaries instead of building the sort of robust infrastructure in early voting States that will be crucial for whomever locks down the nomination. [emphasis added]

In short, Dr, C didn't have the "fire in the belly," never did, ran for president because all his friends and fans told him he should, but his heart was never really in it.  He rose to the top tier and brief frontrunner status based on the GOP grassroots' mindless "outsider" fetish and not being a Donk phallus like Trump.  And some of his friends and fans evidently saw him as a cash cow that could be milked for all they could gain off of his candidacy.

It's tempting to think of Ben Carson as the victim in this equation.  As I've said all along, I like the man and immensely respect him.  But he's the candidate; his name is on the campaign; ergo, he's responsible for all of it, lock, stock, and barrel.  And because running for president was, ultimately, not his idea, his was a figurehead candidacy from day one, by definition.  So the wonder would have been if it hadn't begun and ended in complete, roiling chaos.

That is, in other words, what you get with incompetent amateurs versus seasoned professionals.  There's a lesson in that for Tea Partiers, if they were at all willing to learn it.

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