Two senior members of Ben Carson’s campaign can cross off one New Year’s Resolution: not being a part of the campaign.
Communications Manager Doug Watts and Campaign Manager Barry Bennett resigned on Thursday just over a week after Carson told the AP in an interview that he was considering “personnel changes.”
“Barry Bennett and I have resigned from the Carson campaign effective immediately,” Watts said in a statement emailed to The Daily Beast. “Having just announced raising $23m for the 4th [quarter], more than any other Republican candidate, and passing 1 million contributions and and over 600 k unique donors since March, we are proud of our efforts for Dr. Carson and we wish him and his campaign the best of luck.”
Bennett told The Daily Beast that he resigned “after coming to the realization I was not going to be able to solve the Armstrong Williams issue.” He specifically took issue with the interviews he alleges Williams scheduled without his knowledge last week. “They were done without my knowledge and Armstrong gave Ben talking points about how every job on the campaign was being reviewed,” Bennett told The Daily Beast. “All of the staff went home for Christmas worried that their jobs were gone. It ruined a lot of holidays, including mine. The strategy was vapid.” He added that he was repeatedly told his job was safe and that it was a surprise when he resigned.
In interviews with The Daily Beast, Watts has spoken of “tensions” the campaign had with Williams, whose role has always appeared larger and more influential than he let on. Yet in an interview with The Daily Beast on Thursday after the two top-level staffers had resigned, Williams acted cool as a cucumber amid the swirling vortex that is Carson’s campaign at the moment.
“You know, when you live and see what I’ve seen,” Williams told The Daily Beast.“Very little surprises me anymore.”
Williams then hinted that this shake-up was predetermined.
“Dr. Carson was pretty clear that everything was on the table,” Williams said. “He did not try to hide it.”
Williams and Carson’s senior staffers have aired their tiffs out in public before. Earlier this month, Williams criticized the campaign for its inability to properly prepare Carson for speeches like the one he gave at the Republican Jewish Coalition where he mispronounced Hamas as “hummus.”
“His campaign has to do a better job at preparing him,” Williams said in an interview with CNN at the time. “Don’t give him speeches at the last minute. It’s not only on him, it’s on them.”
Bennett fired back at the time saying that he didn’t think Williams was “always helpful.”
Watts added “He does present us with some problems being on the outside of the campaign. Dr. Carson has expressed a little frustration here and there.”
Carson told the AP last week a shake-up might be in the future, but the candidate then tried to walk back this big pre-emptive announcement.
“I have 100 percent confidence in my campaign team,” a statement attributed to Carson and provided to The Daily Beast last week read. “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, but my senior team remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan.”
“That was not our interpretation,” Williams said today, indicating that they had planned to make major staff shake-ups all along.
When asked if he had any direct conflicts with Bennett and Watts, Williams first said, “I never knew I had strife with them. I have a lot of respect for Doug and Barry. I’m sure in your newsroom, you have differences of opinions. That’s not unusual.”
He then added that he’d like to get a drink with them at some point.
Now as Carson finds himself in the single digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire, with extremely high quarterly financial burn rates, donors fleeing over staff disagreements and lackluster debate performances, Williams hopes to let Carson right the ship before it’s too late.
“Dr. Carson remains in charge,” Williams said, adding that the campaign will announce its new manager on Monday and that he was not taking the job himself.
The Carson campaign later sent out a statement announcing that senior strategist Ed Brookover would be taking over as campaign manager. Reached by email, Brookover confirmed that with The Daily Beast. In addition, Major General Bob Dees, a foreign policy adviser, will serve as campaign chairman.
According to Williams, Bennett and Watts gave him “no indication that they were resigning.”
“I’m sure Barry and Doug have issues with me,” he said. “They’ve expressed that to me. That’s part of a family. Those guys would do well wherever they go.”
He wouldn’t elaborate further when asked if those issues stem from Williams getting too involved in the campaign with which he allegedly doesn’t have any direct role.
“It’s never personal, it’s life, man,” Williams said of the resignations. “This is a tough business.”