By Sean Illing- Salon
Roger Stone, Donald Trump (Credit: Fox News/AP/Chuck Burton)
The political provocateur and former Trump aide vows to Salon that Trump will not be derailed at the convention
Love him or hate him, most people in politics have something to say about Roger Stone. A longtime political hit man, Stone has excelled in the “dark arts” of politics for close to 50 years. He came of age as an operative for Richard Nixon in the ’70s and has since lobbied for and worked with Lee Atwater, Ukrainian politicians, casino operators, and various other GOP outfits. He was heavily involved in the Republican efforts to stop the 2000 Florida recount and he led the smear campaign that exposed Eliot Spitzer’s relationship with a prostitute in 2008. Most recently, Stone has been championing the Trump campaign on the airwaves and via the pro-Trump super PAC he heads, “The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness.”
Stone is also busy promoting two books, “The Clintons’ War on Women” and “Jeb! and the Bush Crime Family: The Inside Story of an American Dynasty.” Recently, Salon spoke with him about this election and his odd relationship with Donald Trump. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
I’ve read both that you quit the Trump campaign and that you were fired – which is it? What happened?
This is ancient history at this point. I think I’ve been among Trump’s most effective supporters, just on my own condition. But Donald Trump had a very specific communications-based strategy in mind for his campaign. I was frankly skeptical. He proved to be right without any of the traditional trappings of politics; polling and analytics and targeting. He was correct that he could dominate the media in such a way to galvanize a lead in the race without TV commercials, without radio commercials to speak of. Without the infrastructure of a more traditional campaign. I was skeptical about that, but he’s been proven right. He made modern political history. But there’s a master strategy – it’s his money, it’s his name, he’s entitled to call that tune. I did establish for both the New York Times and POLITICO numerous sources that I told the evening before, my decision to resign. So perhaps there’s a miscommunication there, but at this point it’s ancient history.
While you’re no longer officially a member of Trump’s team, are you still speaking to him in any advisory capacity, even informally?
I have no formal or informal role in the campaign. I am a friend of Trump, I’ve known him for almost 40 years. I have great affection and respect for his family, I knew both of his parents well. I know his sister MaryAnn Trump Barry, who I respect enormously as a judge. Her husband John Barry was a good friend of mine. So, of course, those conversations remain private and we talk politics in a broad sense, but I have no formal role. I’m not running his campaign.
Speaking of roles, what kinds of services do you provide to your clients? You’re known as a master of “dirty tricks” – do you own that reputation? And do you think dirty tricks are necessary to win elections?
It is a moniker that comes out of the 1970s. I think I’m very adapted to understanding the news cycle and the use of information. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to elect my client, short of breaking the law. Politics isn’t being bad – this is a bare-knuckle contact sport in America. Politics has always historically been a blood sport. Abraham Lincoln’s detractor circulated fliers accusing him of being mixed-race. Andrew Jackson’s detractors circulated newspapers saying that he had made his wife sexually available to his presidential predecessor. This is part and parcel of our political tradition. The voter is very adept at sorting out what’s over the top and what isn’t. In sorting out the difference between satire, political promotion and advertiser. But I think I’m very good at understanding the dynamics of a campaign and how to move votes.
Is there a line? And how do you know when you’ve crossed it?
Of course, there’s a line, but the truth of the matter is that the dissemination of information, some people consider that a dirty trick, other people consider it public education. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with educating the voters about items in the historical past that may have been suppressed about Bill and Hillary Clinton – that’s not a dirty trick. That’s public education. Now you may have to go about drawing public attention to this information in some theatrical or promotional ways, but that’s because anything that happens in American politics today is competing for voter attention, mainstream media attention as well as alternative media attention. And the media is about getting your message more broadly heard.
Sure, but the issue isn’t whether or even how information is disseminated – it’s about lying and distorting the record. In any case, let’s pivot to this election cycle. Ted Cruz recently said you should be condemned for inciting violence and for using what he called “Saul Alinksy tactics” – what’s your response?
Well as a lawyer he should read the entire transcript of what I said, as opposed to the one selective anecdote on CNN that then everybody commented on. I very clearly in the next sentence talk about a dialogue with delegates, I’ve gone on to explain what I want is for Trump delegates to sign the voluntary pledge. I of all people understand, as a veteran of the ’68 Nixon campaign, what the violence of that presidential year did to Eugene McCarthy’s prospects.
Make no mistake about it: the Move on people, the Black Lives Matter people, the other solo agitprop professional agitators, who have been invading Trump’s rallies will be there in Cleveland, seeking to provoke violence. To insight violence so that they can unfairly blame Donald Trump. I’m specifically opposed to violence. It is not violence for a voter from say, Pennsylvania, to go to the Pennsylvania delegation hotel and seek her delegates and ask her to sign a pledge. They’re staying in that hotel, they’re socializing in that hotel. That’s where delegates are usually found during the day for anybody who’s ever been to a Republican National Convention where the major sessions are at night.
I’ll circle back to the point about visiting delegates at their hotels. Since you mentioned CNN, lets’s talk about the offensive tweets that got you blacklisted over there. You wrote that Ana Navarro, one of CNN’s commentators, was a “pompous shithead” and an “abusive diva” who’s “dumber than dogshit.” You removed the Tweets, but never admitted that they were racist or sexist or even wrong. Is there any circumstance in which you’d apologize for them?
Well let me say two things: it is one thing to ban me, which I think is a bad idea. Censorship is always a bad idea – it smacks of the Soviet Union. I mean in all honesty, there is a political strategist and blogger named Wilson who has said online that somebody should put a bullet in Donald Trump, yet he still comments on CNN, so please give me a break. Secondarily, however, more objectionable than the ban is that CNN has allowed Ted Cruz to go on twice with Anderson Cooper and excoriate me falsely, attacking me by name. Fair enough, but I am afforded no opportunity to respond, that is of course journalistically unethical. That leads to the question whether CNN is really a news organization or are they an advocacy organization for a point of view. I would point out that every time Kurt Schlichter or Steve Malzberg or others start to talk about Hillary’s ethical abuses of women, where she is actually an accessory after the fact to many of her husband’s sex crimes, seeks to unplug the microphone. This narrative has to be heard by the American people – let them judge if they’re telling the truth about the Clintons.
What do you think about the prospect of a contested Republican convention? Trump may still reach 1,237 delegates, but it’s very possible that he doesn’t clinch the nomination on the first ballot. If so, how do you think it plays out?
First of all it’s very exciting: the first contested convention since 1976. I have been to every Republican convention since 1964, worked the floor of every one since 1972. Some of them were pretty dreary affairs, and others were very exciting. But I actually think Trump will get the magic number. I think he’ll reach 1,237 votes. On the other hand, I still believe that there could be an effort to change the rules or credentials to deprive him of this nomination. And there’s both a historical precedent for that in 1952, when Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio came to Chicago with the necessary votes to be nominated and the Eisenhower people successfully unseated their delegates in Texas and Louisiana. When that went before the full convention, the chairman ruled that the delegates in question couldn’t vote on their own faith. That gave the Eisenhower forces a working authority and they destructed Taft’s majority with that one vote, and it was over. That’s why I have written so much about the whole concept of Trojan Horse delegates in this contest.
So even when Trump wins delegates, for example in Texas where he won 40 delegates, those 40 delegate slots will be filled with non-Trump supporters. People who oppose Trump so they can vote against him on procedural matters that come before the first ballot, such as the approval of the credentials and rules for this convention. That’s where the big spiel will take place, if it’s going to take place.
We learned this week that Ted Cruz and John Kasich reached some sort of agreement to join forces in order to block Trump from clinching the nomination. The deal, if we can call it that, appears to have collapsed before the first primary was held. But it’s rather telling that they even considered this. Thoughts?
This is not without historical precedent either. Frankly Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller had a backdoor conversation together closely to try to block Richard Nixon’s ascendancy on the first ballot in 1968. In 1964, Rockefeller, George Romney and Scranton banded together to try to stop Goldwater, so it’s not uncommon. In this case, however, I think it just underlines the extent to which Ted Cruz is now the establishment candidate. He is now aligned with the most liberal candidate in the race in an effort to stop the outsider in this race. Cruz tries to position himself as an outsider in this race, but he’s the candidate of Jeb and Neil Bush. He’s the candidate of Mitt Romney. He’s the candidate of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. He’s the candidate of the oil and gas industry.
How far are you willing to go to stop Cruz, Kasich and the establishment from usurping Trump at the convention? You’ve suggested that citizens ought to visit delegates at their hotels in Cleveland in order to, what, pressure them in person?
We addressed this, if it’s not clear. The Hotel that are used by each state delegation will be publicly known. Without the room numbers, you can locate your delegates, you can use the house phone, you can try leave messages for them. The idea is to meet your representatives and ask them to take the pledge. If they don’t want to take the pledge, that’s fine, this isn’t about arguing. This is about taking a list of those delegates who don’t want to take a voluntary pledge and give them to the media, so they can be asked why did the votes of the people not matter? Why are you not respecting the will of the voters in your state. That’s the point of this entire exercise. Those Trojan Horse delegates are where the real danger to Trump could lie, in some kind of tricky maneuver here to hijack this convention from Trump.
But why encourage people to physically show up at these hotels, especially in this polarized climate and in light of the violence we’ve already seen?
Lobbying one’s delegates has happened since time immemorial whenever Republican National Conventions are held. Flooding the city with your reporters to produce a quarters to lobby delegates is a part of this process. No, we’re not suggesting anybody punch anybody out. We’re talking about a dialogue. We’re entitled to a dialogue focusing on the Trump delegates themselves.
Is someone’s personal hotel room best place for such a dialogue?
I think so. Where else are you going to find them in the fine city of Cleveland.
At the convention?
If you’re the average voter, you’re not permitted on the convention floor without a credential, only they are.
What do you make of Trump’s recent campaign shake-up? Do you think Corey Lewandowski, who until recently was Trump’s chief adviser, is an amateur? Can Manafort and Riley put Trump over the top?
The master strategist adviser of Donald Trump has been Donald Trump. He has a masterful sense of public relations: How hard it is, when to withdraw, which is very, very seldom. He is very much his own man. Unscripted, uncoached, unprogrammed, he envisioned as I said, a communications-based strategy. He has not spent the kind of resources on structure that would be considered to be traditional. So the campaign exists to support the tour, and the tour has been very effective in terms of Donald flying into any given city and having enormous rallies with record crowds, which the networks, local television as well as the cable news networks cover wall to wall.
So what, then, is the utility of bringing Manafort or Reilly on board?
Because now you have mechanical functions at the end that are required. In a contested convention one has to have a skill at vote counting, one has to have a very tight communications system within one’s delegate operations. One needs to have internal loyalty to the people on the floor, discipline. It’s a mechanical function and it is required. There is no way to foresee, in one sense that this would go towards warfare, although history is kind of repeating itself, in the sense that in 1976 the Reagan campaign’s theory was predicated on an early knockout of Ford, and therefore Reagan did not even bother filing for delegates in a number of Northeastern states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York. And then that didn’t happen, so Reagan bounced back to win the middle primaries and that meant that Ford and Reagan ended up scrapping at the end for delegates in the small states and state conventions, right where we are right now in a sense. And the metaphor was doomed for Ford at the time.
I assume you’ll be at the convention in July – what’s your role there? To lean on delegates? Intimidate opponents?
I’m going to go out there and do some public speaking and sign some books. I’m going to be speaking out about what I think is happening. I’ve got a broadcast, my radio show “Stone Cold Truth,” which begins on the Genesis network in April. I have to crank out a column for “Stone Zone” every day. I’ll certainly be there speaking out on the issues. I don’t have any formal role. I am involved with Stopthesteal.org which is organizing multiple grassroots groups like “Citizen for Trump” and “We will walk” and other pro-Trump groups to turn out people. This is all about the numbers, making a statement through numbers.
Let’s be honest: All the bombast, all the over-the-top rhetoric, all the flip-flopping – on some level isn’t the Donald just performing for the cameras? Even his own campaign manager conceded that he’s been playing a “part.” Can you admit that Trump’s critics are right to question his sincerity?
No. I think while it would be fair to say that he dramatizes certain aspects of his presentation when he’s in a speech or a talk show, there’s only one Donald Trump. And it’s the one you see on the stump. It’s the one that has won the Republican primaries and it is the one that has the most crossover appeal to blue collar democrats and people who are sick of the two-party monopoly and the fact that they think the system is broken. So yes, he’s an outsider. Is he a polished political player? No. He’s not a career politician but he is not a man playing a role. There’s only one Trump. He’s very, very tough, and that’s the quality that will be most needed in our president.
Will he be the nominee?
Yes, he will.
By James McClure
If you’re a fan of Richard Nixon or irony, there may be a special marijuana strain for you. “Tricky Dick” is (apparently) a new brand of bud being grown for medical marijuana patients in California, says its backer – and former Nixon campaigner – Roger Stone.
“We are legally farming a strain of marijuana in Northern California in Yorba Linda, the hometown of Richard Nixon,” Stone told Jim DeFede, a reporter for CBS in Miami.
Stone describes the strain as guaranteed to give you a bad buzz and the munchies: “That’s a very unique blend of marijuana. You smoke it, you become very paranoid, and you want to go to a Chinese restaurant.”
If that got your eyes rolling, imagine how the strain’s namesake must be rolling in his grave. Nixon was, after all, the godfather of the War on Drugs.
And no one knows that better than Stone, a former Nixon campaigner and political operative who has been described as “a master of right-wing hit jobs” and “skilled in the dark arts of politics.”
Stone has been involved to some extent in political campaigns since he was a kid in 1960, and the young Stone actually campaigned against Nixon then. He ran a smear campaign in his elementary school’s mock presidential election. “I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays,” Stone told The Washington Post in 2007. “It was my first political trick.”
Since converting to conservative politics in the later 60s (and then turning libertarian decades later), Stone has worked almost exclusively for right-wing politicians, including Donald Trump. Stone made news in Oct. 2015 by calling Ohio Governor (and rival for the Republican presidential nomination) John Kasich a hypocrite for his opposition to marijuana legalization.
But Stone himself supports marijuana reform. In February 2013, he wrote an article for The Huffington Post calling on Florida voters to decriminalize and eventually legalize recreational marijuana use. “Think of the pain and suffering we can soothe,” he wrote, “the lives we save by avoiding a criminal record for mere possession and the billions of revenues marijuana could ultimately bring to the Sunshine State.”
He also admitted to his own personal use in the article. “While I will cop to smoking marijuana on occasion in the past I prefer a very dry vodka martini with blue cheese stuffed olives, please.”
However, he’s an avid collector of political pot paraphernalia. Check out this clip featuring his Nixon bong, Nixon pipe and Nixon-esque parody of the Zig-Zag mascot.
Los Angeles – Roger Stone loves resilience. It’s why the former body builder had Richard Nixon’s face tattooed on his broad back.
“It’s there to remind me that in life, when things don’t go your way, you get back in the game,” Stone said in an interview with CNN. “Nixon said, ‘A man is not finished when he’s defeated, he’s only finished when he quits.'”
When it comes to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, things did not initially go Stone’s way. He had one vision for the campaign; Trump had another. But after leaving in August, Stone is back, in a manner of speaking. With the Republicans potentially facing a contested convention, his brand of political trench warfare is now in greater demand than ever.
Late last month, Trump appointed veteran GOP strategist and lobbyist Paul Manafort — Stone’s longtime friend and business partner, dating back to the Reagan years — to lead his fight for delegates. Sources close to all three men say Stone played a role in that appointment, which gave him a new lifeline into Trump’s campaign.
Stone also heads “The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness,” a pro-Trump super PAC that has redirected its mission “to help stop the Republican establishment from stealing the Presidential nomination” from Trump — which, of course, will be the campaign’s chief preoccupation between now and the Republican convention in late July.
The campaign changes come as Trump has repeatedly charged that the nominating process is “rigged” to block him, a statement Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed as “hyperbole” in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
But Stone’s most significant role will likely take place this summer in Cleveland. In a contested convention, his mastery of political dark arts could prove instrumental in securing the delegates that Trump needs. He has been to every Republican convention since 1964, and he’s worked the floor at every convention since 1972. And even he readily admits that he is capable of employing tactics other operatives wouldn’t dream of, let alone try.
While Trump and his campaign can claim no connection with Stone — after all, he left the campaign last August — those who know the two men say that they speak regularly, and that Stone is an influential voice in Trump’s ear.
“Roger is never too far away from Trump … He’s always talking to Donald,” a source close to both men said. “Roger and Trump always wind up finding their way back to each other,” said another.
Of his contacts with the front-running candidate, Stone says, “I talk to Trump from time to time, but not every day. I don’t even necessarily talk to him every week.”
Rivals criticize Stone’s involvement
Stone’s resurgence worries Trump’s competitors, who appear to fear his role in the delegate fight and at the convention. Last week at a CNN town hall meeting, Senator Ted Cruz said Stone was “pulling the strings on Donald Trump. He planned the Trump campaign, and he is Trump’s henchman and dirty trickster.”
The “dirty trickster” charge is one Stone is familiar with: He was Nixon’s “dirty trickster” before he was Reagan’s “dirty trickster” before he was George H.W. Bush’s “dirty trickster.” In 2000, he helped George W. Bush in the Florida recount effort by working with local media and Spanish-language press to amplify pro-Bush efforts to shut down the recount in Miami-Dade County, and he later claimed to have obtained the frequencies of walkie-talkies that Democrats were using to communicate so he could listen in on their plans. He has also claimed that he was first to learn about Eliot Spitzer’s affairs with call girls, which ultimately led to his resignation as Governor of New York.
“One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation,” said Stone.
“He’s the type of the guy who doesn’t really pull any punches,” said Tony Fabrizio, the veteran Republican pollster who is close to Stone. “Most people have one of two reactions to Roger: They either love him or they hate him. There’s no middle ground with Roger. He is just the type of guy who generates heat everywhere he goes.”
Stone was recently blacklisted from both CNN — for disparaging remarks he made about CNN political analyst Ana Navarro — and from MSNBC because of what the network described as his “very well-known offensive comments.”
He was born in 1952 and raised in Lewisboro, New York, about an hour north of Manhattan. He read Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative” as a child and by the time he turned 13 he was volunteering for William F. Buckley, Jr. George Washington University brought him to the nation’s capital, and in 1976 he was named national youth director for Reagan’s first presidential bid.
Reagan is how Stone got introduced to Trump: In 1979, Stone came to New York to help Reagan’s long shot effort to win the state’s primary. “New York was Bush country,” Stone said. “Trump let us use his plane, let us use phones, let us use office spaces he didn’t even own … We got to be friendly, and in 1981 when we founded Black, Manafort and Stone” — Stone’s former lobbying firm with Charlie Black and Manafort — the Trump organization was among our first clients.” In 1999, Stone helped lead Trump’s presidential bid on the Reform Party ticket.
Sixteen years later, Trump again called on Stone to play a key role in his campaign. But the formal assignment was short-lived.
At the outset, Stone advocated for traditional methods: polling, analytics, advertising. But Trump had something different in mind: hold rallies, generate controversy, get free media coverage. Stone didn’t care for that approach, nor the man tasked with implementing it: Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, who didn’t much care for Stone, either, sources close to the campaign said. (Both Lewandowski and Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks declined to be interviewed for this story.)
So Stone left in August, less than two months after the campaign launched. But he never really was gone. He was not ousted, as was originally reported, nor was he forced into exile, as some journalists would claim. He was always there, on the sidelines, talking to Trump on a regular basis, planting stories in the press, influencing things where he could, several sources said.
What will Stone do next?
Now, eight months later, Trump’s “say anything” strategy has given way to a new phase. He’s trying to assemble the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination, and he’s in desperate need of experienced political infighters who can navigate the contentious fight for delegates. Which means that Stone’s services are back in demand.
“If it is exile,” Stone said of his predicament, “it’s Elba, not St. Helena.”
In fact, if you buy the Napoleonic comparison, Stone is already marching on Paris.
Cruz fears Stone’s next “dirty trick” involves inciting Trump supporters at the convention. Earlier this month, Stone called for “protests” and “demonstrations” in Cleveland, and said he would “disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates” who were involved in “stealing” the nomination from Trump.
Though Stone never explicitly called for violence against any turncoat delegates, Cruz, among others, read it as a threat. The Texas senator called on Trump to fire both Stone and Manafort — another indication of just how closely those two men are aligned.
“I don’t know if the next thing we’re going to see is voters or delegates waking up with horses heads in their beds,” Cruz said on Dana Loesch’s show on The Blaze. “This doesn’t belong in the electoral process. … [Trump] needs to fire the people responsible. … He needs to denounce Manafort and Roger Stone, and his campaign team that is encouraging violence, and he needs to stop doing it himself.”
Speaking to CNN, Stone scoffed: “I called on Trump supporters to go to their delegates, find them at their hotel, and ask them to sign a [pledge] to respect the will of the voters. I’m not for violence.”
As for Cruz’s preoccupation with him, Stone says, “It’s obviously some kind of obsession. He must lay awake thinking about what I am doing.”
The Cruz campaign declined to comment.
The big question on the mind of Cruz and the Republican establishment is just what kind of trouble Stone will get into at the GOP convention.
Stone says he’s free to do whatever he wants, since he’s not bound by any formal role in the Trump campaign organization.
“I’m my own person,” Stone said, “I don’t have to get clearance for things I want to say.”
“I’m going as an FOT,” he added. “Friend of Trump.”
What Roger Stone knows about Trump’s strategy (he’s winging it), and the efforts to take the candidate down
By Janet Reitman
Republican strategist Roger Stone has been called a “self-admitted hit man for the GOP” and the “boastful black prince of Republican sleaze.” Illustration by Victor Juhasz
Depending on whom you talk to, Roger Stone, the veteran GOP strategist and consigliere to a long line of Republicans, most recently Donald Trump, could be one of the sleaziest operatives in American politics, or the most effective. He has played a role in no fewer than nine presidential campaigns, starting with Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election bid, where he cut his teeth “trafficking in the black arts,” as he’s put it. He’s lobbied for casino operators, consulted with Ukrainian politicians, was instrumental in stopping the 2000 Florida recount in Miami by orchestrating an angry mob of Republicans in pinstriped suits, and helped destroy the career of Eliot Spitzer by exposing his relationship with a prostitute. He has been described, in consistently unflattering terms, as, among other things: the “king of dirty tricks,” a “self-admitted hit man for the GOP,” the “boastful black prince of Republican sleaze” and “a little rat” — albeit one with a closet full of bespoke suits who drives a sleek silver Jaguar, one of six he has owned.
“I like them ’cause they’re sexy,” he tells me on a recent balmy Saturday afternoon in South Florida, where he has lived for 15 years. Stone, whose frequently outré tweets — he recently called CNN commentator Ana Navarro “dumber than dogshit” — have gotten him banned from two of the three major cable news channels, spends a good portion of lunch talking about this situation, which he describes as “Nazi-like” (and then notes that the left doesn’t have a monopoly on Nazi references). But he moves on to discussing virtually every facet of contemporary politics as he eases the Jag into the driveway of his office, which is housed in a faceless mini-industrial district. The three-room space offers a visual archive of the past 40 years of American politics, dominated by Richard Nixon. Nixon, in fact, is everywhere: on wall posters, portraits, hand puppets, salt and pepper shakers, ping-pong paddles, rolling papers. There are Nixon bongs. There’s a Nixon hash pipe. “There’s a project I’m working on in Northern California where some friends and I have our licenses and permits for a strain of marijuana called ‘Tricky Dick.’ You smoke it, you immediately become paranoid and want to go to a Chinese restaurant,” he jokes. Stone is very charming — which, of course, is part of the game. “Be nice to me,” he says. “Write something that makes me look bad, they’ll find your body — or rather, they won’t find it.”
Talk to me about how the dark art of political attacks and dirty tricks have changed since you entered politics.
Well, some tactics are pretty much the same then as now. I mean, 200 years ago, Andrew Jackson’s rivals printed handbills that accused Jackson’s wife of bigamy. Now, the National Enquirer says that Ted Cruz had five mistresses. What’s changed politics is technology — it’s made it much easier to disseminate information.
Cruz accuses you of a whole range of dirty tricks — from planting that National Enquirer story to controlling what gets published on Drudge. What’s this about?
It shows I’ve succeeded in getting into this man’s head. Look, “dirty trickster” is a pejorative, obviously. I like to win for my clients, and I’m prepared to do whatever I can to make sure they win, short of breaking the law. Politics ain’t beanbag. This idea that a political campaign is a genteel and civil proceeding is not true. This is a no-holds-barred fight for the presidency of the United States. But no, I did not plant the story at the National Enquirer, and no, Ted Cruz does not have an iota of proof that I did. I’m a convenient whipping boy for Tricky Ted. Though I do find it somewhat humorous that Ted Cruz is whining about dirty tricks.
What happened between you and Trump — you were part of his campaign, and then you quit. Why the breakup?
I wouldn’t call it a breakup — I didn’t resign because I don’t like him. I resigned because it became very clear that Donald had his own vision of how to do this. He was going to be his own strategist and run a completely communications-based campaign. There is no polling, no targeting, no analytics, no writing shop, no TV or radio commercials, no voter mailing, no targeted operations, no opposition research — all the staples of a modern campaign. He wasn’t prepared to do any of those. And I disagreed with that setup, so I resigned. I just would have ended up fighting with him. But I will say that he’s been proved right: You can do it for free — if you have the celebrity.
The New York Times, among others, has accused Trump of trying to “blame the system” for whatever ground he’s lost. Do you think he’s been robbed?
He’s in the process of being robbed. What is happening is fundamentally undemocratic — but it can be defeated with a well-oiled delegate operation. The Trump campaign didn’t have a real delegate operation before because of a belief that after he won the March primaries, it would all be over. And he believed this because his campaign advisers told him there would be no convention fight. That’s a product of inexperience by his staff, who set a false level of expectation.
You’ve been warning that the party establishment will try to use this kind of chicanery to maneuver the nomination away from Trump — all of it happening before the first ballot. Can you explain the scenario?
This is what I call the Big Steal. I don’t mean Trump falls short of 1,237 delegates and they won’t give him the nomination. What I’ve said is, Trump has the 1,237 votes until they unseat his delegates somewhere or play some other legal trickery to steal it from him. And they’ll do it in two ways: by planting their own people — what I call Trojan horse delegates — in the slots won by Trump, and by adopting rules for the convention that won’t favor Trump. The Republican National Convention is not ruled by state or federal law, or by the U.S. courts — it’s ruled by its own rules. It can do whatever it wants. And what we’ve found is that party bosses from a number of key states have been quietly planting establishment stooges in important slots. So the Rules Committee, which has the authority to change, rewrite or completely redo any rule previously adopted by the RNC, could pass a rule, just theoretically, that says that the delegate votes of non-Republicans [meaning Independents or Democrats who voted for Trump in open primaries] are thrown out. Now that has to go to the full convention for ratification. Trump doesn’t have a majority on the floor, because, for instance, the Texas delegates who are for Trump are really not Trump people — the party has filled those seats with their lackeys. This is precisely how the 1952 nomination was stolen from Robert Taft for Dwight Eisenhower.
If this were to happen, you’ve basically called for Trump supporters to revolt in “days of rage,” which sounds like you’re calling for a 1968-style revolution.
I remember 1968. Why would I advocate for that? Violence at the convention is what destroyed Hubert Humphrey’s chances in the general election. Violence would also hurt Donald Trump in the general election. Rage is defined as anger, not violence. There’s nothing wrong with peaceful protests, and we’re calling for four days of non-violent demonstrations, protests and lobbying delegates face to face.
By which you mean supporters finding out where delegates are staying and going to their hotel rooms, correct?
Yes. Look, the convention happens at night. During the day, everybody’s hanging out at their hotel. So you go find your representatives and you make the case. You’re trying to impress them with numbers. We need a dialogue with each delegate. We have the right to address the delegates. I never said, “Go to their room and beat the shit out of them.” I said, “Find your delegates and tell them why they should vote for Donald Trump.”
“The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring. And Trump is never boring. Politics is show business for ugly people.”
And how would you hold them to this?
We’re going to produce a voluntary loyalty pledge that will say, if you’re a Trump delegate, that you’ll stick with Trump through all the ballots to reflect the will of the voters. We’ll ask them to sign. It’s voluntary, but we’ll see who does it, and who the cockroaches are.
Sending people to delegates’ hotel rooms with “voluntary” loyalty pledges doesn’t strike you as intimidation?
That’s democracy! I promise you, I have people e-mailing me all the time begging me to tell them how they can help Donald Trump. One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation.
And “days of rage”? I mean, come on, that has a connotation you cannot ignore.
I admit it’s somewhat theatrical. But on the other hand, if you don’t say something provocative, you don’t get covered at all. The point of the demonstration is a show of force by numbers. Say there are 100,000 people there — that’s a big deal.
Trump recently hired your former business partner Paul Manafort to manage the convention. From the outside, it looks like Manafort is the adult who was brought in to take over for a bunch of amateurs. Did you recommend Manafort for this gig?
I most definitely did raise his name. I am not the only person who recommended him. But look, you’re talking about a campaign that wanted to reach out to Washington state delegates and wound up sending e-mails to people in D.C. There is very little political experience in their staff. Most of the regional political directors have never been in politics before. And Trump is likely to be nominated despite the fact that he had a bunch of amateurs on his campaign. He’s better than the campaign. The success here is not the success of Trump’s campaign; it’s the success of Trump.
Is Trump going to drive Manafort crazy? I mean, no one seems to say no to Trump.
At the same time, the fact that he is uncoached and unscripted, not reading from polling that tells him what to say to be popular, it’s actually appealing. There’s something [about] watching a guy in a high-wire act without a net. That’s actually what sparked his campaign, the fact that it’s not plastic and prefabricated.
You’ve known Trump for 40 years — who is he, really?
Well, first of all, he’s one of the funniest people I know. There’s nothing pretentious about him. Believe me, he’d prefer a cheeseburger to chateaubriand, that’s just the way he is. He’s a lot of fun to be with when you’re not across from him in a business negotiation. Then he’s the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever met. He’s completely fearless. He’s also nationalist, which has nothing to do with race, it has to do with national sovereignty. I think his views have been amazingly consistent for a long period of time, particularly on trade and NATO. He’s been talking about our NATO allies ripping us off and not paying their fair share for 30 years. Is he more flexible than he appears? Yes, he’s a businessman.
What is it about Trump that so thoroughly freaks out the establishment?
The [consultant and lobbying class] are petrified of Donald Trump because he is completely uncontrollable — he’s not beholden to anybody. And he also offers the party voters they have never gotten before: the people who feel left out, who’ve decided all government is rigged against them, who’ve been voting forever and nothing ever changes. The problem with the establishment GOP candidates has been that they have no ability to reach beyond the GOP base. Trump is bigger than the Republican Party. Ironically, a billionaire can change the Republican Party from being the Wall Street party back to being the mainstream, more populist-based, non-country-club party. That’s great. Look, the only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring. And Trump is never boring. Politics is show business for ugly people.
Donald Trump at an April 16th campaign event in Syracuse, New York. Jabin Botsford/Getty
Suppose Trump gets the nomination. What’s his path to victory?
Well, let’s remember he’s not running against Joan of Arc. I mean, he’s very polarizing, but Hillary’s equally polarizing. So this will be a slugfest. I think he’s got to debunk the idea that she’s an advocate for women. He’s got to debunk the idea that she’s an advocate for children. He’s got to take apart her record as secretary of state. And then I think he’s got to open up the Clinton Foundation and show how they used it to enrich themselves.
What do you make of the Republicans like Lindsey Graham who’ve lined up behind Cruz?
Oh, Lindsey Graham is a whiner. He despises Cruz — he just hates him a little less than he hates Donald. They’re all just using Ted to block Donald.
Still, it’s ironic that Cruz, who had no problem shutting down the government, has now been embraced by the GOP establishment, even if it’s only superficial.
The fact that all these establishment guys have supported him tells me that what they don’t like is Ted personally, not Ted’s views. They’re perfectly fine with his views, by and large. And that’s because Ted’s the ultimate insider. He’s a Princeton-Harvard globalist fraud, and his conservatism goes back about four years. Before that, he was a Bush Republican. Remember, he was one of George W. Bush’s advisers on the Florida recount. His wife was a national-security adviser to Condoleezza Rice. Then she went to Goldman Sachs. Not too many “outsiders” are working at Goldman Sachs. Then, he went out purposefully to reinvent himself as the new Jesse Helms. He comes to D.C. acting like a prick. And I get it — he’s building a base. But he’s a total fraud.
You told me you think the Cruz team’s tactics are “puerile and childish.” That’s funny, especially coming from a guy who suggested a primary opponent of Richard Nixon’s was actually a leftist by giving the guy campaign contributions from “the Young Socialist Alliance.”
That wasn’t my idea! That was the idea of Patrick J. Buchanan. I was just a 19-year-old kid sent out on a stupid mission. The Nixon people were amateurish. They had this whole USC-fraternity mentality that took over after 1968, with the “ratfucking.” This is how Watergate happens. No one who understood politics would have ever broken into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee — for one thing, there wouldn’t be anything in there worth stealing! Anyone who knew anything about campaigns could have told you that.
What was your takeaway from that?
The point isn’t harassment — this is about votes. Ordering 20 pizzas and having them delivered to the Democratic headquarters, that’s just stupid. You’re not changing a single vote. But, say, when John Lindsay is running for president in the Florida Democratic primary in 1972, and somebody hires a plane to fly over Miami Beach with a banner that reads LINDSAY IS TSORIS — which is Yiddish for “trouble” — at a time when Miami Beach is overwhelmingly Jewish … every yid on the beach knows what that means. That’s brilliant!
I assume you hired the plane?