U.S. Republican Ben Carson's 2016 presidential bid was thrown into chaos on Thursday when his campaign manager and some 20 other staff members quit amid infighting, dropping poll numbers and negative media coverage.
Barry Bennett, who oversaw Carson's rapid rise to the top tier of Republican contenders and his later fall, said he quit over differences with another top adviser to Carson, Armstrong Williams.
Specifically, Bennett blamed Williams for an interview Carson gave last week to The Washington Post suggesting that the campaign was in disarray. "It's one of the stupidest things I've ever seen a candidate do," Bennett said.
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Ben Carson on the campaign trail
Republican Ben Carson's campaign manager, 20 staff quit
MT. AYR, IA - JANUARY 22 : Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is introduced during his 'Trust in God Townhall' campaign stop January 22, 2016 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Carson, who is seeking the nomination from the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. As retired neurosurgeon Carson has risen in the polls, media reports have revisited his accounts of acts of violence as a child, a key part of the redemption story he discusses on the campaign trail. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before speaking at a gala for the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on November 6, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. Carson has come under media scrutiny for possibly exaggerating his background and other statements he has made recently. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 16: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson (L) eats a piece of pizza while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - OCTOBER 29: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before a campaign event at Colorado Christian University on October 29, 2015 in Lakewood, Colorado. Ben Carson was back on the campaign trail a day after the third republican debate held at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Scenes around the the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson takes the stage at the event. Dr Carson speaks to the media after the speach. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Attendees wait for Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to arrive during a campaign stop at the birthplace of the Michigan Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Carson, the third candidate in the Republican race to have never held elected office, saw his numbers drop following the debate last week. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, listens as he attends a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Carson will be speaking at the Iowa State Fair, which is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, eats a slice of pizza as he tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, Carson doubled down on his assertion that a speech given by President Barack Obama intended to sell the American public on his nuclear deal with Iran contained 'coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Things had "boiled over" with Williams, Bennett told Reuters. "For the past seven weeks, I've been doing nothing but putting out Armstrong Williams-started fires," Bennett said.
He also charged Williams was behind a story in The New York Times that suggested Carson was out of his depth on foreign policy.
Carson's communications director, Doug Watts, also resigned due to differences with Williams, Bennett said. Some 20 staff in total left, he said. Among them was deputy campaign manager Lisa Coen.
Williams, a political commentator who holds no official role with the campaign, said he was "shocked" by Bennett's criticism. "They're giving me a lot more credit than I deserve," he told Reuters.
He suggested Bennett and Watts left the campaign rather than be fired. "Right now, they're upset and they need a scapegoat, and I'm the scapegoat," Williams said.
Support for Carson has fallen ahead of the first contest - on Feb. 1 in the state of Iowa - for the Republican nomination in the Nov. 8 election.
The retired neurosurgeon now places fourth in many national opinion polls after surging into the second slot behind the front-runner, real estate mogul Donald Trump, in the autumn.
With the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, elevating national security concerns among voters, Carson has been criticized by rivals for his lack of foreign policy experience. He has never held elected office.
Craig Robinson, former political director for Iowa's Republican Party, said Carson's lack of visibility in Iowa damaged him even though he had the chance to capitalize on his much-touted status as a political outsider.
"All along, I've never really thought this was a serious presidential campaign in that it is actually operating and doing things to get elected," Robinson said.
In spite of the poll numbers, Carson's campaign on Wednesday announced a fourth-quarter fundraising haul of about $23 million, and Bennett said Carson remained in a strong position.
"He's got millions of dollars on hand," Bennett said. "He should be able to do something with that."
Carson's campaign announced that Bob Dees, a retired Army major general, would be the campaign chairman while Ed Brookover, formerly a senior strategist, would serve as campaign manager.
For more on the 2016 presidential race, see the Reuters blog, "Tales from the Trail" (here)