For all the attention paid to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race, the candidate with the most momentum at the moment is Ben Carson. Carson, a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, is making major gains in Iowa -- with two new polls showing him tied with or running a close second to Trump. I reached out to Barry Bennett, Carson's campaign manager, for more insight into the candidate's appeal in Iowa, and more broadly. Our conversation, conducted via e-mail, is below -- edited only for grammar and clarity.
FIX: Explain Ben Carson’s appeal. Is it his resume? His lack of political background? Something else? Why do people — especially in Iowa — respond to him?
Bennett: We think his appeal is multi-layered. You start with a doctor with a pediatric specialty. That makes him caring. Add that he is a renowned brain scientist with 67 doctorates. That makes him caring and smart. Now add his life story which makes him caring, smart and inspirational. Package that in likability and you have his appeal. He doesn’t look, sound or speak like a politician. His common-sense, level-headed approach is what many are thirsty for in an era of screaming and disappointment.
FIX: How has Dr. Carson avoided getting caught in the Trump tornado that seems to have sucked everything other candidate in? Can he continue to exist in a place where Donald Trump doesn’t impact his candidacy?
Bennett: The truth is they are quite similar in defining the problems, but worlds apart in style. DBC [Dr. Ben Carson] is never going to say something mean about Trump. He told me the day I met him that he wasn’t running against anyone; he was running to change our country. I think DBC won the last debate simply because he showed some of his personality. He is smart, funny and immensely likable. That was a very strong contrast to all of the bickering about who loves the Fourth Amendment the most. The style contrast between the two couldn’t be more vivid. In a field of candidates, success depends on being different.
FIX: How can Dr. Carson, who has never held office before, be ready to be president? What is he doing to get more beefed up when it comes to say, foreign policy?
Bennett: I should point out that the current Congress has a combined 8,700 years of political experience. It seems to me that great leaders must have something more than experience. DBC is the smartest man I have ever met. But more importantly he has an internal compass that is solid. DBC has lectured and practiced medicine in 57 countries. He lived abroad for a year and a half. We have spent the summer sitting him down with experts and hiring our own. Every morning he is briefed by experts in what is going on in the world. He is an avid reader. Our policy team may not be household names, but they are experts from the Department of Defense, State, the National Security Council and the CIA. Doctors have this great system of calling in specialists to help them solve problems. He will be more than able handle his own. Take a great man like Lincoln. What made him great? It wasn’t his one term in Congress. It was his core.
FIX: What does Dr. Carson’s kitchen cabinet look like? Who does he rely on for strategic advice?
Bennett: His cabinet looks like his life. He spent 18 years on some of America’s biggest corporate boards. He accumulated many friends along the way. His medical career brought him in contact with some of the great minds in health care. His foundation’s focus on reading and education has had him working with thought leaders on education. His economic team his headed by Professor Tom Rustici and his national security team is headed by General Bob Dees. Their work is supplemented by dozens of others.
FIX: Finish this sentence: The biggest hurdle Dr. Carson has to winning the GOP nomination is _______________. Now, explain.
Bennett: "Getting some time at the microphone." The DBC life story is the most compelling political story in a long, long time. To know it is to become an admirer. Every other candidate in the field has to drive over the back of other candidates to get the nomination. DBC just has to be himself and spread the word of who he is, how he got here, and what we need to do together to save this country.