Ben Carson’s former campaign manager said Wednesday that the neurosurgeon’s lack of political experience – coupled with his refusal to learn or use the “Washington lexicon” – contributed to his campaign woes.
“He’s also a 64-year-old African-American male, who culturally is what he is right? He’s not comfortable with homosexuality, right?” said Barry Bennett, Carson’s former campaign manager, at an event at Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.
“And there was nothing we could do to make him talk about it in a lexicon that is much more modern,” he said.
When asked about the comments from the former staffers, Carson’s communications director Larry Ross said the campaign is “moving forward in a positive direction.”
“(Crowds) are enthusiastically responding to (Carson’s) values-driven message, forward-leaning policies and commonsense leadership,” he said in an email to CNN.
Early is his presidential bid, Carson raised eyebrows when he asserted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that homosexuality is a choice because people “go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay.”
He later apologized.
Bennett and former communications director Doug Watts both agreed that Carson’s inability or unwillingness to speak in a politically palatable way was a major component in the campaign’s troubles.
“He could give you the same foreign policy answer that Marco Rubio did, and Marco Rubio sounds like everyone you ever heard, and Ben sounds like, ‘Wow, that was strange,’” Bennett said.
The former staffers also bemoaned the influence of Armstrong Williams, a longtime Carson associate who has taken an indirect role in shaping Carson’s message, over the campaign. Watts said the campaign had challenges coordinating with Williams “from Day 1.”
“We did our best to bring him in. What we are unaccustomed to is someone being 100% unaccountable to the campaign,” Watts said.
Bennett said “certain people” felt they needed more public credit for Carson’s early success – and it didn’t work out well.
“Unfortunately, they went out and they made some serious, serious mistakes in trying to prove they should get credit and it turned out really badly,” he said.
Late last fall, the retired neurosurgeon was a steady leader in polls of likely Republican voters in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and even challenged Republican front-runner Donald Trump for national prominence.
But while his ex-aides blame the candidate and Williams for Carson’s subsequent fall from atop the polls, it also coincided with a slew of news reports of poked holes into stories Carson told about his own life.
The first, reported by CNN, raised questions about Carson’s claims he had been violent as a child. Soon after, the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino focused the 2016 on foreign policy and Carson’s perceived weakness on the issue presented a new challenge for the campaign.
Carson’s poll numbers came down alongside the public exit of several members of his campaign staff.
Carson had his own take on his plummet in the polls, which he offered in an interview with CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
“Paris happened, and San Bernardino happened. Plus you had, I think, an almost unprecedented attack on my character,” Carson told Borger.