DETROIT, Michigan — A city that’s trying to raise itself back up after severe economic downturn will serve as the backdrop for the launching of the presidential campaign Dr. Ben Carson, a man who’s already personally pulled himself out of poverty into a life of success.
Another city a few hundred miles away that burns amid race riots as Carson emerges–a black conservative and someone who believes he can heal the racial agony and division America has suffered under now nearly seven years of President Barack Obama—is where he did it.
Dr. Ben Carson, the now former chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore—the youngest, at age 33, when he took over the program years ago—is “calm, cool and collected,” his top political aides said in interviews with Breitbart News here.
Carson will announce officially on Monday morning here that he’s running for president, though he did say as much in local radio interviews this weekend as reported by the Huffington Post, Fox News, and the Washington Post.
“I’m willing to be part of the equation and therefore, I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States of America,” Carson said on Ohio’s WKRC this weekend, as reported by the Huffington Post.
Carson aides on scene here in Detroit insist that wasn’t him announcing he’s running yet, but that he’ll make such an announcement on Monday.
On Monday morning, Carson will lead a community breakfast at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History before speaking at a high school assembly at the Benjamin Carson High School here in Detroit. Then, at 10:30 a.m. at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Carson will make his big announcement—presumably where he’ll announce that he’s running for president.
After he announces the campaign, Carson was scheduled to go straight to Iowa, then off to South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada for a several-days-long campaign swing. But, according to several aides to Carson here in Detroit, the Iowa leg is on hold for now since Carson’s mother–who now lives in the Dallas, Texas, area–has fallen ill and he needs to go visit her immediately after his announcement.
“A mutual friend introduced us several months ago—I went down to Florida to spend a day with he and his wife—and I just fell in love with the guy,” Barry Bennett, Carson’s campaign manager, told Breitbart News in an interview over beers on the patio of a the Hilton Garden Inn hotel bar on Saturday night here in Detroit. “His heart is in the right place and his head is in the right place. I worry about the party. And if we’re going to be a majority party someday, we’ve got to make some strategic corrections and I think he’s the guy who can make the party bigger, better, bolder. Bigger in attraction, better at listening and talking to people and bolder in ideas. I think win or lose, he’ll make the Republican Party better for having participated. But I think he’ll win because he is exactly what millions of Americans are looking for: An outsider with his head and his heart in the right place.”
Carson’s campaign launch video, which was provided to Breitbart News exclusively on Saturday, focused on how, in his view, America needs to “heal,” “inspire,” and “revive.”
“We think the country needs a healing for sure,” Bennett said. “We are more divided than ever on every possible thing. The party is divided, the country is divided, Washington is divided, everything is divided. We need to come around together for one thing and that’s the save the country. We need someone who can inspire the country not just in flourishes on a stage—which we had most recently—but with a life story and actions to match those words, and show people who frankly have given up hope that there is a way. And revive, frankly, Detroit is a great example of revival. We’ve followed the wrong path for 30 years and we’ve watched all of our manufacturing jobs leave. We’ve made a lot of really bad choices—we have 17 and a half trillion reasons to show you we’ve made a lot of bad choices.”
Ed Brookover, a senior strategist for Carson, told Breitbart News that Carson represents a “fresh look, and as a party—as conservatives—we’ve been searching. Dr. Carson’s leadership, his style, the way he thinks, I think is fresh. I think I fit in with many Americans who are looking for something fresh. Plus, a lot of us who grew up in the Reagan era are looking for something. In ’76, I wasn’t a Reagan guy—but by ’80 I was.”
Brookover compares Carson to Reagan in that both were never career politicians. Reagan was an actor and spokesman for General Electric before eventually entering politics to run for governor of California—a position he served in before eventually winning the presidency in 1980 after two prior unsuccessful attempts.
Reagan, like Brookover says of Carson, “believed there was a different way of doing things.”
“Part of it is Reagan had a set of values he didn’t veer from, but he also found ways to work with people like Tip O’Neill and folks on the other side of the aisle whether it be as governor of California or as president,” Brookover said. “I think that Dr. Carson is similar in that he has a set of deeply held values but he also wants to move our country forward.”
Carson grew up down the street from here in a single-parent household with his brother and his mother—after his mother Sonya divorced his father Robert when he was 8 years old and his brother Curtis was 10. Sonya worked several jobs, and due to her hectic schedule Ben and Curtis would hardly ever see her for days at a time—since she’d leave at 5 in the morning and not return home until close to midnight. Sonya was by all accounts a strong mother figure, and though she worked quite a bit, she did limit the amount of time Ben and Curtis could watch television every week—and required each to read two books per week that they picked up at the local library and deliver a book report to her on each at the end of the week. Since Sonya herself couldn’t read, Ben and Curtis needed to deliver their reports orally.
Due in large part to that strong mother figure in Sonya, Ben Carson would go on to lead in school—becoming an officer in the JROTC program in Detroit—being offered a full scholarship to West Point, but turning that down to study at Yale University for a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. He’d come back to Michigan to earn his medical degree from the University of Michigan—specializing in neurosurgery. It was during his time at the Yale that he met his wife Candy, but he married her while he was at the University of Michigan School of Medicine in 1975. Ben and Candy Carson moved to Baltimore when he graduated from medical school in 1977, where he became a resident at Johns Hopkins University. Known for his excellent hand-eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning skills, Carson quickly became the youngest doctor ever to lead a major division at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital—heading up the pediatric neurosurgery division.
He documented his story in a book, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, and several subsequent books. A devout Christian and conservative, Carson rose to cultural superstardom as an example of someone who rose from nothing to become something great—Brookover says he “embodies the American dream”—before then rising almost unexpectedly to political superstardom when he criticized President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.
“When Dr. Carson says things like ‘education is the ladder for people to climb up and rise up through the American system,’ he not only believes it—he’s lived it,” Brookover said. “When he says it takes disciple and hard work and courage to succeed in America, he’s lived that. When he says he understands where life begins, he understands that because he’s operated on babies in a mother’s womb before. He’s lived it. These are not just things that he talks about. It has been his life and it is inspirational to Americans of all walks of life.”
Carson’s putting together quite a team—just like he would bring together a top-notch team to lead a specific surgical outfit at Johns Hopkins—to lead his presidential campaign. There’s Brookover, who before joining Carson’s operation worked as political director in the 1995 cycle for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and for teams before that at the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). He’s now heading up Greener and Hook strategic communications firm.
There’s also Bennett, who will be Carson’s campaign manager. Bennett is a longtime adviser to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and several other members on Capitol Hill and has been around national Republican politics for years—even working for former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour when Barbour led the Republican National Committee.
Doug Watts, who worked on Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign as part of the so-called “Tuesday Team” which ran the ad strategy, will be the campaign’s communications director. Watts worked with Ed Rollins and Sal Russo, both prominent conservative strategists, for years before leaving politics for some time to focus on corporate communications—coming back to the business for Carson. “Working for another insurgent candidate like Dr. Carson—like Doug sees Reagan—was very appealing to him,” Brookover said.
Amy Pass will be Carson’s national finance director, having worked most recently for Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. Since Carson announced his exploratory committee in early March a little under two months ago, he’s already pulled in $3.5 million in fundraising, Brookover said.
Deana Bass, who worked for now retired former House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and runs her own public affairs company now, will be the campaign’s press secretary. Michael Brown, a Department of Commerce veteran, is the national field director. They’ve got field directors plugged in and in place in Iowa, South Carolina, and Nevada as well, and will soon announce a New Hampshire team. Then there’s Terry Giles, a Houston-based attorney who will be closely involved with the Carson effort and is here in Detroit along with the rest of the team—and the affable character Armstrong Williams, who’s worth profiling all on his own, as evidenced by a recent article in GQ magazine about the man behind Dr. Ben Carson. Mike Nason, who spent years working closely with the now late California-based televangelist Rev. Robert Schuller, will be running Carson’s advance team with close help from Xavier Underwood, a D.C. native tied closely with several media markets nationwide.
“We’re building out a strong team in terms of operations,” Brookover said in his interview with Breitbart News here in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn in the Greektown area of Detroit, just blocks from the library Carson’s mother used to send him to every week for his books to report on.
After being asked how this fairly impressive political team came almost out of nowhere, he said “in a way.”
“That’s okay with us,” he said. “We don’t always shout from the rooftops about the internal game of politics. We’re more interested in the external messaging of Dr. Carson. But we understand that it’s important for people to understand that there’s an operation behind Dr. Carson, and that we believe he has a path to victory—which we do—and we’ll talk about it as we need to but we’re not going to be out selling it every day.”
And the story of Dr. Carson is exactly what they’re going to sell on the campaign trail as a pathway that he, if elected president, could help provide for the millions of Americans who are struggling out there.
While interviewing Bennett, a young man came up to the table with a bundle of t-shirts he was selling that said “Straight Outta Detroit” on them. Carson’s team bought a couple of them in different colors and then struck up a conversation with the young man about his small business printing and selling t-shirts. He told them how he came up with the idea for the imprints, then made them happen and has been selling them to people around Detroit for some time now—and plans on opening an office downtown soon. “Detroit’s coming back,” the young man said, visibly pleased with the sale he just made. His entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off so well on the Carson team they exchanged contact info with him and said they would be in touch about potential t-shirt printing in large orders—quite a few for a presidential campaign, if they do end up using him as a contractor.
“Everybody else is going to run trying to win the primary,” Bennett said. “We’re going to run trying to save the country—and if that helps us win the primary, that’s great. If it helps us save the country, that’s great too. The Washington chattering class will say he doesn’t have the experience—and what that really means is ‘he’s not one of us. How could he possibly do it? We’re the only people that know anything.’ What we take that to mean is ‘yes, he’s never voted for a budget that is out of balance or some political pork or to raise the debt ceiling or to do any of these disgusting things that have happened these last 30 years.’ No one party or one person is responsible—it’s the system that’s broken, that’s what needs fixed. Dr. Carson is a guy who grew up here in Detroit poorer than poor. He wished he was just poor. His mom turned off the television and made him read and he read his way through the Detroit public library into Yale and became the world’s foremost brain surgeon, saved 15,000 lives, created a foundation that sent 7,200 kids to college, built 121 reading rooms in America’s worst schools and through all that collected 67 honorary PhD degrees. I think his experience is just fine—even if he can’t memorize the name of the foreign minister of Bangladesh.”
Bennett said that he expects the mainstream media will try to “Palinize” Dr. Carson—meaning they’ll ask him irrelevant questions with the intent of trying to say he’s unworthy of a high political position. But, he said, given the strengthened grassroots and new media infrastructures that are emerging ahead of 2016—unlike in the 2008 cycle where the mainstream media dominated—the left and media won’t be successful.
What’s more, Carson’s announcement couldn’t come at a more interesting time in the world of inner city and urban affairs. With Detroit attempting to rebound from an economic turn for the worst happening in the backdrop here, Baltimore—Carson’s other home city, where he led Johns Hopkins Hospital’s pediatric neurosurgery division for years—is burning after riots over the death of Freddie Gray tore the city apart. Carson is unafraid to address the inner city issues—and has been outspoken on his thoughts on the Gray case specifically, and his campaign announcement video even contains footage of the protests in Baltimore.
“As a country, as a citizen, it’s frustrating,” Brookover said of the heightened racial tensions since Obama was elected president. “No matter where you are on the political scale, you want America to do better. To have this happening is disappointing—so maybe the fresh approach, the nonpolitical approach, is needed. Barack Obama was a politician. He was a state senator, a U.S. Senator, before all that a community organizer. That [getting elected to the presidency] was his goal. He was always headed that way, which is different than Dr. Carson—who is a natural leader but wasn’t putting his skills towards politics until very recently.”