Ben Carson is at the tip of many people’s tongue as a likely contender for the presidency in 2016 and — besides the neurosurgeon himself — Armstrong Williams is the “man who would make” him president, according to GQ writer Jason Zengerle.
Fresh off a profile of Carson, Zengerle published a new piece devoted to Carson’s business manager Armstrong Williams. Williams, the GQ writer relays, is likely the key to Carson’s success and the reason Zengerle was provided so much access to Carson himself.
In terms of biography, Williams is a born-and-raised South Carolinian who got his start in Washington D.C. working for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).
Thurmond would become Williams’s mentor and Williams would eventually become one of Thurmond’s most trusted advisors. When Thurmond would have his hair transplants dyed their peculiar shade of orange, he’d summon Williams to make sure they were the right color. “He knew I was brutally honest,” Williams told me.
Then it was on to work as an assistant for another well known conservative, Clarence Thomas, who at the time was leading the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Years later, during Thomas’s bruising Supreme Court confirmation, Williams spoke out in defense of his old boss, and against his old colleague Anita Hill. Once Thomas made it to the Court, Williams took it upon himself to keep Thomas, who famously refuses to read the newspaper, plugged into the outside world—tapping his ridiculously diverse network to arrange for the Justice to play hoops with Charles Barkley in the Court’s gym or break bread with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.
In the ensuing years, Zengerle relays, Williams joined with Stedman Graham, known for his relationship with Oprah Winfrey, to create a public relations outfit. He also became known in his own right as a black conservative pundit, compete with a syndicated column, radio and television shows. He has also recently purchased six televisions stations in five different states.
According to Zengerle, Carson and Williams have known each other for over two decades. They met when Carson appeared on William’s TV show.
Soon Williams says that he realized his friend’s business could be managed better. As Williams tells it, Carson “was looking to sell some property and minimize his taxes, so I turned him onto the 1031 exchanges”—a financial strategy that’s used to shield investors from capital gains taxes. Before long, Williams wasn’t handling just Carson’s business affairs, he was employing Carson’s sons through his production company and helping Carson’s wife, Candy, import 300 pounds of Egyptian marble for the renovation of the Carson family home. When Carson turned his attentions toward politics, it was only natural that he’d turn to Williams for assistance.
Zengerle describes Williams as “an able Sherpa” who has taken Carson’s grassroots appeal and turned it into a legitimate national phenomena.
Through his television stations, which Williams purchased from Sinclair Broadcasting, he’s provide Carson with a and regular platform on 150 or so other Sinclair stations. While those appearances aren’t as prominent as Carson’s work for Fox News (where Carson was, until late last year, a paid contributor), they allow him to often reach more viewers. Williams has also plugged Carson into the mainstream media.
Williams is also, Zengerle explains, nothing if not a constant advertisement for his boss.
Above all else, Williams is an excellent hype man, constantly talking up Carson to reporters (“This guy is a voracious reader,” he told me) and even suggesting lines of inquiry. “Be sure to ask Dr. Carson about Kanye West,” Williams instructed me. It turns out Carson and the rapper spoke on the phone last year. “He wanted to talk to me and tell me he admired me,” Carson told me. “I was quite impressed with his intelligence.”
According to Zengerle, it is William’s confidence in Carson and his abilities is why he was granted so much access for the initial GQ profile.
Williams believes that if reporters just get to know the man he knows, then they will inevitably see the man he sees: a brilliant doctor, a future president, an actual sage. One afternoon, Williams told me about the time last year he took Carson to visit another one of his friends, Maya Angelou, at her North Carolina home. At the end of their visit, Williams said, Angelou invited both men to attend her annual Fourth of July party. Williams knew that Carson had other plans for Independence Day, so, as they were leaving, he teased his friend that he’d have to miss Angelou’s soiree. Carson replied that Williams would have to miss the party, too. “She reeked of death,” Williams said Carson told him. “She’ll be dead in three weeks.”
Williams continued with the story. “Two weeks and five days later, I was having breakfast at the Monocle when I got a call that Dr. Angelou had died,” Williams told me. I must have looked confused, trying to figure out the import of this anecdote, because Williams hit me in the arm. “Doc was just two days off!” he said.
Read the full profile.