Trump Looks to Gain from Carson Campaign Meltdown
Policy + Politics

Trump Looks to Gain from Carson Campaign Meltdown

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The news Friday that Ben Carson’s former campaign manager was not only advising the retired neurosurgeon to drop out of the race and endorse Donald Trump but that he had taken on an advisory role with the Trump campaign highlights something that has become obvious to anyone paying attention: The Carson campaign has stalled out.

After a surge in late 2015, Carson dropped back down into the second or even third tier of GOP hopefuls. But he still polls in low double digits in some key primary states, which means top tier candidates have to be wondering where his supporters will go if and when he calls it quits.

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Carson, a deeply religious man, has connected with voters to whom a candidate’s faith is important. Despite Trump’s claims about loving the Bible, there is only one candidate left in the top tier of GOP hopefuls who can credibly claim to be as religious as Carson: Trump’s chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

It’s far from clear how much of Carson’s support might move to Cruz if the retired doctor leaves the race, but with the Texan closing the gap between them, Trump has a strong interest in keeping that number as low as possible.

That’s probably why Carson adviser Armstrong Williams saw the hand of the Trump campaign in an interview that former Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett and former spokesman Doug Watts gave Politico on Thursday.

Despite constant assertions that he has no formal connection to the Carson campaign, Williams, a conservative talk show host, has long held the role of de facto spokesman for Carson. So it was no surprise when Williams jumped on Facebook Friday morning to hurl accusations that Bennett and Watts were working on the billionaire’s behalf.

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Watts and Bennett, by all accounts, clashed repeatedly with Williams and, in the end, with Carson himself, over strategy and tactics. In the interview, they advised Carson to quit the campaign and endorse current national frontrunner Donald Trump instead.

“The unmitigated gall of Barry Bennett and Doug Watts: To attempt to curry favor with the Trump campaign by delivering Dr. Carson's campaign infrastructure on a platter is nothing short of amazing,” Williams wrote on Facebook

He went on to say that while they were instrumental in helping the Carson campaign last year, the two are now “betraying” the candidate. He accused them of sidling up to the Trump campaign in hopes of finding new work.

He concluded, “But just to make it extra clear: neither Bennett nor Watts has any influence whatsoever over who Dr. Carson may ultimately endorse in the primary should the occasion arise.”

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Williams, as a Washington Post piece published late Friday morning revealed, turned out to be right that there was a strong Trump-related reason why at least one of Carson’s former advisers was calling for a Trump endorsement from Carson.

Bennett, the Post’s Robert Costa reported, has taken on an advisory role with the Trump campaign.

“I believe Trump is going to win and it’s important that his campaign is ready for everything that is coming,” Bennett told Costa. “I’m here to do what is needed. I’m not being paid and I’m going to be mostly focused on getting my business back up and running.”

By taking on Bennett, the Trump campaign may have scuttled any chance of gaining the actual endorsement of Carson, but it’s unlikely he’d have received it anyway. To the extent Bennett helps Trump divert even some Carson voters to the Trump camp, it’s a savvy move by the Trump campaign.