Ben Carson is overhauling his campaign operation, adjusting his tone and doubling down on old-fashioned retail politics to help revive his flailing presidential bid.
The retired neurosurgeon, who sat atop the GOP field just months ago, kicked off 2016 facing sliding poll numbers and a campaign shakeup. Five staffers — including three top advisers — have left the campaign, said retired Major Gen. Robert Dees, the new campaign chairman. That leaves Carson’s team just weeks to regroup before the Iowa caucuses.
One of the first changes could be the candidate’s tone.
“Ben is ready to fight for this,” a Carson adviser said. “He’s ready to really show himself in a way he hasn’t necessarily been on display in a while.”
Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager, echoed that prediction in an interview with CNN Thursday.
“He’s soft-spoken and sometimes people confuse soft-spokenness with not being strong enough,” Williams said. “Dr. Carson has learned that sometimes soft-spokenness is not enough. “There will be more fire in his belly.”
That shift will be paired with changes to the campaign operation. His team is plotting a more aggressive communications strategy to be more responsive to the media and to current events, Dees said.
The campaign is also trying to rev up its policy shop, by bringing in more experts and releasing new policy proposals, Dees said.
“We’ve had a policy engine that was idling,” Dees said. “We’re going to … allow the people of America to really see what Ben Carson really believes about certain things.”
Carson’s early momentum in Iowa, fueled by his political outsider persona and evangelical appeal, quickly came to a halt. The candidate faced questions about whether he embellished his background and public friction between campaign advisers further damaged the campaign.
His problems grew more pronounced in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, when Carson appeared to struggle with foreign policy questions and delivered a speech where he repeatedly mispronounced Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group, as “hummus.”
“We did a deep dive and recognized that there were some areas of deficiency,” Carson said in a Fox News interview on New Year’s Eve. “We’re moving into a different phase now and we need something different.”
Carson’s advisers believe a heavy campaign schedule in Iowa and face-to-face contact with voters could help repair some of the damage and win over new supporters.
“We just want to keep getting Dr. Carson in front of as many people as possible,” Ed Brookover, Carson’s new campaign manager told CNN Friday. “When people hear Dr. Carson’s message they respond very well and that’s our job over the next 30 days as we move to the Iowa caucuses.”
Another adviser said the campaign is also planning to have a round of “exciting” surrogates join Carson on the campaign trail this month, but declined to offer more specifics.
Still, Carson’s advisers spent much of Friday in damage control mode, downplaying significance of the staff departures and touting the campaign’s fundraising prowess as a sign of Carson’s strength.
The campaign raised an impressive $23 million in the fourth quarter, thanks to its fundraising juggernaut that relies largely on small donors. But small-dollar fundraising is also an expensive endeavor that can result in a high burn rate. The campaign has not yet announced how much cash it has on hand.
“There’s been maybe a false narrative that the campaign is in chaos or the campaign is losing momentum. It’s just the opposite,” Dees said. “We’re gaining energy and this change has helped us.”