Published December 31, 2015 by Hallie Jackson (NBC News)
Two top aides to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson have quit the campaign, citing internal tensions.
In the latest sign that Carson’s campaign is struggling, Campaign Manager Barry Bennett and Communications Director Doug Watts have resigned amid the one-time top-tier candidate’s dropping poll numbers.
“Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately,” Watts said in a statement. “We respect the candidate and we have enjoyed helping him go from far back in the field to top tier status. Having just announced raising $23m(illion) for the 4th Q(uarter), more than any other Republican candidate, and passing 1 million contributions and over 600 mm unique donors since March, we are proud of our efforts for Dr. Carson and we wish him and his campaign the best of luck.”
Carson has dropped from leading the Republican field with 29 percent support in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late October to just 11 percent by the middle of this month.
In a phone interview with NBC News, Bennett blamed acrimony within the campaign on Carson’s close confidante, Armstrong Williams, who is the candidate’s business manager and the man many of his aides say is a central problem in the campaign. Bennett said that he was frustrated that Williams was “undercutting any good news we had” by creating a new problem.
Bennett says he called Carson around 9:45 this morning to notify the former neurosurgeon of his decision. He says the presidential hopeful was surprised and asked him to “take the day to think it over,” but Bennett told NBC News that his mind was made up.
“Some of his advisers just have gotten him to do some things that are not very smart,” Bennett told NBC News in a televised interview to discuss his differences with Williams. “I can’t stop them, but you know, I don’t need to bang my head on a wall anymore.”
Bennett said the morale of the campaign staff was low and that many staffers felt they were about to be let go over the holidays after Carson hinted of a shakeup. “It was needless, it was pointless,” he said, adding that he hopes the morale returns. “I hope it comes back. I hope that whoever they bring in to replace me can bring it back. But, you know, I think it’s beyond my ability to fix.”
Asked if the campaign is a “sinking ship,” Bennett said he remained optimistic. “I don’t think so, you know they’ve got more cash than most, a lot more support than most and
I think he’s going to do very well in Iowa. I think we could still win Iowa.”
Williams has been an “ongoing problem since day one,” a separate source familiar with the campaign’s internal workings said, adding that the latest struggles in the polls and in fundraising in the last month are “all self-inflicted wounds created by Armstrong Williams.”
In a brief phone conversation this afternoon, Williams told NBC News he knew Bennett and Watts “had issues with me” but held no ill will towards the two aides, and that he had no influence on the shakeup. “It’s easy to blame. I have nothing but praise for these guys. I knew they had issues with me, we worked around them — it’s like a family,” he said.Follow @FortySixNews