UPDATE, 7:50 p.m. EST: Ben Carson's presidential campaign was in chaos Thursday as some 20 staffers quit amid disagreements and sagging poll numbers, Reuters reported.
After the retired neurosurgeon's campaign manager resigned Thursday, the campaign announced that his senior strategist Ed Brookover would take over. The campaign also said the role of campaign chairman would be filled by Bob Dees, a retired Army major general, Reuters said.
Ben Carson will find himself looking for a new group of people to run his campaign in the new year. Three of the Republican presidential candidate’s top aides resigned Thursday, Politico and the Des Moines Register reported.
First, campaign manager Barry Bennett and communications director Doug Watts both left Thursday, effective immediately. Then, Carson deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen told Des Moines Register she, too, was quitting.
Watts said in a statement she and Bennett "have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately,” Politico reported. “We respect the candidate and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status.”
"Deeply concerned about the (Carson) campaign's ability to move forward successfully without" Barry Bennett and Doug Watts, Lisa Coen says.
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) December 31, 2015
The aides’ departures come after Carson stirred significant speculation about a staffing shakeup last week, telling the Associated Press “everything” was “on the table.” The candidate later went back on those remarks, emphasizing his team remained in place and he looked forward to continuing to work with his staff.
“My senior team remains in place with my full confidence,’’ Carson said in a statement to the New York Times just hours after initially mentioning the shakeup last Wednesday.
“I have 100 percent confidence in my campaign team,’’ he added. “We have come a long way and accomplished great things together, and together we look forward to winning in Iowa and beyond. We are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead.’’
The retired neurosurgeon’s campaign has been struggling from staffing disagreements and high levels of spending in recent months. Although it brought in $23 million in the quarter that ended Thursday, Carson’s popularity waned as the 2016 race pivoted to focus on national security in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. His lack of foreign policy knowledge combined with doubts about his personal narrative led Carson to drop dramatically in the polls.
As they have worked to slow his decline, Carson’s team could not seem to agree on a strategy. His campaign leadership often butted heads with the candidate’s close friend Armstrong Williams, Politico reported. Williams, a conservative commentator, has no formal campaign role but often speaks publicly on Carson’s behalf.
Williams and campaign staff often made contradictory statements in media interviews, which created the appearance there was a battle to influence Carson. One notable example was Williams’ comments to the New York Times about Carson’s canceled trip to Africa, Bennett told Politico. Williams told the Times Carson had canceled his trip over a security threat from the terrorist group Boko Haram, which he later said was not entirely accurate.
“I am not going to criticize the campaign. They work very hard for Dr. Carson,” Williams told Politico when asked Tuesday about the potential staff shakeup. “With the exception of what happened after the terrorist attacks in Paris … they’ve done very well for a long time. I am not going to judge them for what I’ve seen over the long haul.”
Williams told CNN earlier this month he believes the campaign needs to step up its efforts in briefing Carson before public appearances. The candidate was criticized after he repeatedly mispronounced the name of the Palestinian group Hamas during an event with the Republican Jewish Coalition in early December.
“His campaign has to do a better job at preparing him,” Williams said in an interview with CNN. “Don't give him speeches at the last minute. It's not only on him, it's on them.”
It is unclear who will lead Carson’s campaign going forward. With just one month left before the Iowa caucuses, the candidate will likely need to find new aides quickly so he does not lose valuable campaigning time and organization. He currently sits in fourth place in national polls with a 9.4 percent average and in fourth place in Iowa with a 9.3 percent average, according to RealClearPolitics.