Thou shalt not criticize thine own candidate in print is one of the cardinal rules of working on a political campaign. So what does it mean for Ben Carson that two of his advisers have recently criticized his grasp of foreign policy?
The New York Timesspoke to several of Carson’s foreign-policy advisers this week in the wake of his recent public struggles on the matter. While they praised the former neurosurgeon’s intelligence, some also raised concerns about his grasp of international affairs.
According to adviser Duane R. Clarridge, “Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.”
Carson, who has never held a position in government but is currently one of the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, has relied upon a network of paid and unpaid consultants with ties to international intelligence to bolster his credentials—a network he once half-jokingly bragged werebetter than Barack Obama’s.
Clarridge, a former spy who was indicted on charges of lying during the Iran-Contra scandal and was eventually pardoned, currently runs his own private intelligence network, once described by the Times as “something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s ‘Spy vs. Spy.’” After volunteering his services to Carson two years ago, Clarridge has helped him prepare for presidential debates and television appearances with regular briefings:
But the briefings do not always seem to sink in, Mr. Clarridge acknowledged. After Mr. Carson struggled on “Fox News Sunday” to say whom he would call first to form a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Clarridge called [Armstrong] Williams, the candidate’s top adviser, in frustration. “We need to have a conference call once a week where his guys roll out the subjects they think will be out there, and we can make him smart,” Mr. Clarridge said he told Mr. Williams.
Mr. Williams, one of Mr. Carson’s closest friends, who does not have an official role in the campaign, also lamented the Fox News interview. “He’s been briefed on it so many times,” he said. “I guess he just froze.”
After the Times article was published on Tuesday, the Carson campaign sought to distance itself from Clarridge and to hit back on the image of its candidate the story presented.
”The source is a polite older gentleman who both overstated his help to the campaign and has zero personal knowledge of who or when Dr. Carson is getting briefed,“ campaign spokesman Barry Bennetttold VF.com.
Several senior officials formerly in foreign affairs have also voiced reservations: former C.I.A. headMichael Hayden recently told MSNBC that while Carson had good “instincts . . . this is a database in which he’s very unfamiliar.”
The Times also spoke to the only paid foreign-policy adviser on Carson’s staff—retired Army generalRobert F. Dees—who praised Carson’s “intellect” and added that he “has the right stuff to be commander in chief.”
Update (5:53 P.M.): According to several reports, in an interview with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin,Williams admitted that he gave Clarridge’s number to Times reporter Trip Gabriel, but that Clarridge was only 1 of 13 or so foreign-policy advisers and was upset that Carson did not talk to him often. According to him, Clarridge and Carson have only met twice.
Williams then doubled down on Carson’s previous assertion that China had a presence in Syria, and said that Carson was “still on a learning curve” when it comes to foreign policy. We’ll update with video once it becomes available.