Ben Carson promises 'very big' campaign shift

Story highlights

  • Top adviser says the U.S. has been in a decline similar to the Roman Empire's fall for decades
  • The retired Army major general also said the campaign must act "fast" to counteract "false narratives"

Washington (CNN)Ben Carson says his campaign is "reinvigorated" and will be on new footing after a holiday shakeup that included the departure of a handful of top advisers and new leadership.

In an interview Monday with CNN's Jake Tapper at his Alexandria campaign headquarters, Carson said it was clear that his campaign wasn't working the way it needed to, and that required action.
    Carson was joined for the interview by his new campaign chairman, retired Major Gen. Robert F. Dees.
    Dees gave voters their first taste of the philosophy now at the top of Carson's campaign, answering questions on his and Carson's faith, the role of women and gays in the military and the decline of America.

    Shaking up the campaign

    Carson said one of the biggest things missing in his campaign before the changes he made over the Christmas holiday was "operations" and "the ability to execute things."
    The retired neurosurgeon said in politics, medicine and any profession, some people lack that "special talent" to get things done.
    "It doesn't mean they're not good people, it means you need to add that in, and that's what the addition was done," Carson told Tapper on "The Lead." "Some people didn't like that, so they decided they couldn't work with that ... I'm very grateful for the contributions they've made."
    Last month, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Carson's campaign announced that five staffers, including three top advisers, left the campaign. That included campaign manager Barry Bennett, who has since criticized Carson's close relationship with business adviser Armstrong Williams and his impact on the campaign.
    In Bennett's place is Dees, as chairman, and Ed Brookover, taking over as campaign manager.
    The changes were announced over a few days. They were first hinted at in an interview with The Washington Post, where Carson said big changes were imminent. But he then walked that back, telling CNN his words were misconstrued. Then the departures were announced later in the week.
    Carson acknowledged that the roll out of the announcement wasn't handled as well as it could have been.
    "Could it have been done better? Absolutely. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Did we need to make these changes? Absolutely yes," Carson said. "You're never going to be able to do a shakeup in a way that will please everybody."
    But he pledged the changes would be worthwhile.
    "Now we're reinvigorated and I think this is going to be something that everyone's going to notice a very big difference," Carson said Monday.
    Dees echoed Carson's optimism.
    "What I would expect them to see is a proactive messaging strategy, we're going to be far more forward leaning," he said. "We're going to work with the media in a more friendly way so that they can understand the true nature of Dr. Ben Carson."
    The retired Army major general also said the campaign must act "fast" to counteract "false narratives" that have spread about the candidate.
    He took a veiled swipe at front-runner Donald Trump, saying Carson will be drawing a contrast with his opponents.
    "Is it about volume, or is it about values? Is it about wild proclamations or is it about policy that leads us to moral high ground as Americans? Is it about tempest or is it about temperament?" Dees said.

    The role of faith

    Carson and Dees met at church, and share a bond over strong Christian ideology. Dees has been active in the evangelical Christian community, and Carson is a proud Seventh-day Adventist.
    Faith has featured prominently in Carson's campaign and life, and Dees said that's something he "unequivocally" endorses.
    But he also denied that Carson's comments on aspects of his beliefs, including saying he doesn't believe in traditional notions of hell and the rapture, would hurt the campaign.
    "He's a man who believes in mainstream doctrine," Dees said.
    Carson decried the "total garbage" of his statements being misinterpreted, explaining his beliefs on hell and the rapture.
    "I don't believe in a secret rapture, where people just, he's just sitting here one minute and he disappears," Carson said, indicating Dees beside him. "I believe what the Bible says ... where he will come, everybody will see him, people will be raised from the dead, called up."
    On the topic of hell, Carson added: "I personally don't believe in a situation where there's this dungeon and there's a bunch of little minions poking people for ever and ever and burning them. That's inconsistent with the character of God, and that's not what the Bible says."
    He echoed Dees in saying his beliefs are "mainstream," and denied that being a Seventh-day Adventist would hurt him in the polls.
    He said his religion believes in the Bible and Christ, just like all Christians.
    "There isn't anything that's non-mainstream Christian about Seventh day Adventists -- the one exception may be that they believe that Saturday is the Sabbath, simply because that's what the Bible says," Carson said. "That doesn't mean that people who worship on Sunday are evil people or doomed, I don't believe that."
    Dees also expanded on his views of religion and society, explaining past comments he made likening the situation in the U.S. to the waning days of the Roman Empire, when "good became evil and evil became good."
    He said the U.S. has been in similar decline for decades.
    "It's an expression of concern for America," Dees said. "I see much of that happening in America, it's not new, it's been happening over the last 60, 70 years"
    Dees added that he agrees with Carson that "America is on the precipice," and cited Supreme Court rulings that found displays of religion in government spaces to be unconstitutional.
    "I see for instance, where we've taken prayer out of the schools, might be an example, or taken or the 10 Commandments off of the walls of some of our public institutions," Dees said in response to where the decline is taking place. "I mean, which one of those 10 Commandments would we not want the people of America to follow, to obey, to revere?"
    "That's what Dr. Carson and I certainly share in terms of world view," he added.

    Women in the military

    The retired Army major general has also been outspoken about the nation's military, speaking out against "social engineering" degrading the national defense.
    Under President Barack Obama, the military has allowed gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military and opened up all combat positions to women -- who were previously banned from serving in certain roles.
    Dees stood by his criticism, saying "the military is designed to provide for the common defense of our nation."
    "Everyone is not good at everything," Dees said. "We have tried experiments within the military, such as the role of women in combat."
    Dees said while "some women" could perform "certain tasks" in combat, most would not be able to carry a sizable male soldier off the battlefield if needed to save his life.
    "There are just certain realities where men can do certain things better, women can do certain things better," Dees said. "We don't need to throw everybody into every position as an experiment just because we're trying to be appear to be fair to everyone."
    As for gays and lesbians serving, Dees said the advice of military experts needs to be taken seriously, and he criticized Obama for disregarding input.
    "The first priority again is cohesion, and the second priority would be that the commander in chief listen to the best military advice," Dees said. "The administration has said, 'Do this, do this, do this,' apart from military and defense considerations."
    Carson did not say whether he shares Dees' views, but did say he would consider revoking the Obama administration's moves to open the military and combat roles to LGBT troops and women.
    "One of the things that I learned in a long medical career is that you make decisions based on evidence, and not on ideology. So yes, I would be willing to sit down with people from both sides and examine the evidence and make decisions based on what the evidence shows," Carson said.
    He added that he values Dees' foreign policy experience and expertise, and that's why he promoted Dees in his campaign. Carson also cited Dees' ability to "get things done."
    "A lot of my foreign policy expertise is a result of spending time talking to him, as well as a variety of other sources," Carson said.