(Kyle Cheney | POLITICO) – On Thanksgiving night, Ben Carson sat in a chartered plane on a Baltimore airport tarmac surrounded by his wife and campaign advisers. The destination: Jordan.
A secret mission to the Middle East, his team hoped, would help reestablish the retired neurosurgeon’s credibility amid searing questions about his shaky grasp of foreign policy. The trip would be kept under wraps until Carson appeared on the Sunday news shows from the location — partly a security measure, partly a political play.
But as Carson and his team awaited takeoff, they were blindsided when The New York Times posted a story outlining the entire plan. Rattled staffers worried the story could tip militants to Carson’s location. Yet they instinctively knew where the story came from: Armstrong Williams.
Williams, a longtime conservative media force who calls himself Carson’s “business manager,” has no formal role in the campaign. But his outsized influence on its inner workings proved to be a highly divisive issue within the campaign, one that ultimately led to the departures of much of Carson’s senior staff.
To those who left the campaign, the tarmac episode was emblematic of a campaign in freefall, a bitterly divided operation trapped in a cycle of dysfunction that helped drag Carson from the top of the polls in late October to the middle of the pack by January.