Several top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson resigned on Thursday, citing frustration with the influence of the retired neurosurgeon’s business manager and questioning his readiness for the White House.
Barry Bennett and Doug Watts, both seasoned political operatives, stepped down with less than five weeks before voters in Iowa begin the nominating process with the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses.
Bennett was Carson’s campaign manager. Watts was communications director. But Bennett said Carson’s longtime business manager, Armstrong Williams, is the adviser who has Carson’s ear, even though Williams does not have a formal role in the campaign.
Carson is “one of the smartest men I’ve ever worked for,” Bennett said, but added that he believes Carson has become Williams’ “script reader.”
Bennett said that made it difficult to advise Carson and raised questions in his mind about what kind of president Carson would make if elected.
“You have to surround yourself with good people,” Bennett said. “And he hasn’t demonstrated that he can do that. No one wants Armstrong Williams anywhere near the Oval Office.”
Williams replied Thursday: “Barry and I agree. I will be nowhere near the Oval Office when Dr. Carson is elected president. I will remain in my private practice.”
Williams also disputed Bennett’s characterization that his influence is inappropriate, and said the departures were more firings than resignations. “I’m sure Barry resigned because he wanted total control and he wasn’t going to have that,” Williams said.
Carson’s campaign released a statement Thursday describing staff changes as “enhancements” that “will shift the campaign into higher gear.” Along with Bennett and Watts, deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen also left.
Retired Army Major Gen. Robert Dees, who has been advising Carson on foreign policy and military affairs, will serve as campaign chairman. Ed Brookover, formerly a senior strategist, will serve as campaign manager.
“I don’t think any one person should have the candidate’s ear,” Williams said. “I think he should listen to a multitude of advisers, inside the campaign and outside the campaign.”
In Iowa, where Carson is trying to appeal to the large number of evangelical voters who take part in the state’s leadoff caucuses, his state-based staff said the shake-up at campaign headquarters would have little or no impact on their organization.
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