Ben Carson formally pulled the plug on his White House bid Friday, but the retired neurosurgeon’s campaign died long before.
The date was November 17. In a bombshell New York Times report, a man whom longtime Carson adviser Armstrong Williams described as a “mentor” to Carson said the Republican candidate couldn’t be taught “one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East.”
The man, Duane Clarridge, a former CIA agent, reportedly said Carson needed weekly conference calls on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
Clarridge, described by The Times as a top Carson campaign adviser on terrorism and national security, said a claim Carson made in a November GOP debate was based on faulty information. Carson had said of Syria: “The Chinese are there.”
The story, which came just four days after the Paris terror attacks, was devastating to Carson’s candidacy at the same time voters were pivoting to foreign-policy issues.
Just ten days before, Carson has done what no other candidate had done before, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average: overtake Donald Trump in national polls after last summer, when the Republican frontrunner had surged to the top.
On November 4, Carson overtook Trump for the first time, but Carson soon dipped back down behind the frontrunner. Through November 13, the day of the Paris terror attacks, he was within half a point of Trump for first.
“I mean on November 13, we were on pace to raise $40 million for the quarter,” ex-Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett, now a volunteer adviser for Trump’s campaign, told Business Insider in an earlier interview. “Then the campaign it just hit that ice patch. And so, instead of raising another $20 million for the second half of the quarter, they raised $3 [million.]”
Bennett said everyone knew it was the beginning of the end after The Times story dropped.
“They all thought that there were different ways out,” Bennett said. “They were going to eschew a bunch of policy papers and change the trajectory of the campaign. … And then Armstrong Williams started inserting himself more and more.”
He continued: “The Paris attack, coupled with the Armstrong Williams story about how Ben doesn’t understand foreign affairs, really just brought fundraising to a complete standstill.”
The campaign, as well as Williams — who was not officially a part of the campaign but frequently appeared as an Carson surrogate in news interviews — tried to walk back Clarridge’s statements and the broader view that their candidate was a national-security novice.
But it was too late. The early December terror attack in San Bernardino, California, further cemented foreign-policy themes into the Republican primaries.
Carson’s poll numbers were in a free fall. Within a week, he had dropped four points. By mid-December, he’d lost half of his support.
At the same time, Trump’s support swelled to record highs. By Christmas, the mogul reached an all-time high in the average of polls. On New Year’s Eve, with Carson’s support dipping below 10%, Bennett and the campaign’s communications director, Doug Watts, abruptly resigned, with Williams’ influence cited as a large reason for the upheaval.
The changes didn’t end up helping Carson, who first burst onto the political scene in 2013 after unleashing a scathing critique of US President Barack Obama while the president was seated next to him at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Carson’s polling numbers continued to plummet, falling to just under 8% by the February 1 Iowa caucuses, where he finished fourth. As more and more candidates began to drop out of the race, Carson was unable to pick up any of their voters.
Although the January FEC report showed that Carson had nearly as much cash on hand as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the retired doctor continued to finish near the bottom in each race since, with this past week’s “Super Tuesday” primaries being one final disaster. Carson did not finish better than fourth in at least 11 of the 12 states that voted.
With just eight total delegates, and after Williams and his campaign chair, Bob Dees, both said they saw no path to victory, Carson finally decided to suspend the campaign.
“Even though I might be leaving the campaign trail — you know there’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me,” he said Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I will still be heavily involved in trying to save our nation,” he added.
Soon after making the announcement and telling the crowd he would be taking a job with My Faith Votes, a nonpartisan group focused on getting US Christian voters to turn out, Carson talked about a regret that likely led to the bombshell Times story.
“I regret not choosing my own people early on,” he told WABC. “Letting other people do that and trusting them. That was clearly a mistake.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.