The fall, er, autumn of Trump: A Q&A with Roger Stone
Described by the Daily Beast as a “self-admitted hit man for the GOP,” veteran political strategist Roger Stone has helped elect conservative candidates to statewide and national offices for decades. Stone helped guide both Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the White House, and was most recently Donald Trump’s top campaign adviser until the two parted in August. Since then, Stone has continued to appear in a commentary role on cable news advocating for Trump, whom he still supports. His book, “The Clintons’ War on Women,” was released last month.
City & State’s Jeremy Unger spoke with Stone about Clinton’s 2016 chances, the political strategy of Donald Trump, and how the Republican Party’s move to the right could impact local races in New York.
The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: From what you’ve learned of Hillary Clinton in researching for your book, what is the one change she could make to make her campaign more successful against Bernie Sanders and Republicans down the line?
Roger Stone: I don’t think the problem is fixable. The problem is that the basic premise for her campaign is that she is an advocate for women and children, but the historical record shows that she is neither. She in fact is the individual who has terrorized and denigrated Bill’s sexual assault victims. It’s Hillary who hires the heavy-handed private detectives to threaten Bill’s sexual assault victims and to terrorize them. It is “co-president” Hillary Clinton who at that point vetted the Cabinet, including Janet Reno, who gives the final assault order at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco in which 18 innocent children are killed. She tells us that she is an advocate for those who suffer from domestic abuse. In October she came out with a proposal that said if you have been accused of domestic abuse then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. Well that would mean that under her proposal she wouldn’t be able to buy a gun because we have evidence that she has punched, kicked, slapped, scratched and thrown hard objects at her husband. So the problem here is that she is a fraud and there is no way to fix that, so the best thing for her to do in all honestly is to drop out.
C&S: A lot of the claims in this book are pretty provocative. How did you gather the evidence to support these allegations?
RS: It’s been hiding in plain sight. Much of this material has been written about from credible authors and then of course there are dozens and dozens of interviews with people, men, women, even children, whose lives have been destroyed by the Clintons in their climb to power. Look, I’m a partisan, there’s no question about that. I’m no fan of Hillary Clinton, but the book stands on its own. Before you reject the claims in the book, read the book, look at the sourcing, look at the footnotes, look at the interviews, and then make a decision.
C&S: Turning things to the Republican Party, there’s been a lot of change in the fall, with Ben Carson and to a lesser extent Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina emerging as competitors to Donald Trump. What do you think at the end of the day will be some of the factors that are going to help determine the winner of the Republican Party?
RS: I don’t think it’s coincidental that the three outsiders, meaning the three non-politicians, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, are between them over 55 percent in all the polls. Now in truth the idea that Fiorina is an outsider is an absurdity. She’s a Washington insider. With her record when it comes to outsourcing layoffs, circumventing the Iranian sanctions at HP, and of course her golden parachute, I think it’s too easy to Romneyize her. Donald Trump continues to hold the first position, and I think the single most significant thing is that Trump has destroyed any prospect for Jeb Bush, that he has effectively labeled Jeb Bush for the rest of his life and highlighted the fact that Jeb Bush is just not ready for prime time. He is not only low-energy, he’s also totally unprepared for this race, he’s unable to answer even the most basic of questions. I would have to say that today Trump remains a strong front-runner and that I think he can beat Hillary Clinton by bringing a bunch of new people into the process.
C&S: You’re a self-proclaimed trickster and you’ve had a long history in politics of developing opposition research against candidates of both parties. Do you think from your experience that politics is becoming more divisive than 20 to 30 years ago?
RS: Politics ain’t a beanbag. Abraham Lincoln’s opponents went around spreading the rumor that he was of mixed race. This is a contact sport in the United States. Maybe Donald Trump put it best when he said he’s fed up with nice. Maybe that’s the problem with our foreign affairs: We’re too nice as opposed to being tough and doing what’s in the best interest of our country. I really think this is a rough-and-tumble business. There’s an enormous amount of power at stake, but the Ivy Leaguers and the political class, the people who’ve been running the country for the past 100 years, they’re not doing too well, so maybe it’s time we try something else.
C&S: There’s been a lot of chaos in the Republican Party in the last month, with Rep. Paul Ryan’s speakership election being hotly contested originally with some Republicans even thinking Ryan wasn’t conservative enough. Do you think a drift to the right like this at the national level will make it more difficult for Republicans running for Assembly or state Senate seats in moderate or blue states such as New York to win elections?
RS: No, because all politics is local. Nobody is going to cast their vote for the state Assembly based on who the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is. That’s wishful thinking by those who don’t wish the Republican Party well. On the other hand, never underestimate the Republican Party’s ability to be stupid and to form the firing squad in a circle. But at the same time, the two parties have now finally become a left-right party. In other words, in the 1960s there were liberal Republicans and conservative Republicans and there were conservative Democrats and liberal Democrats. That’s no longer true. We’re more like Britain now, there’s a party of the left and a party of the right. The media spends a lot of time talking about right-wing extremism, but what about left-wing extremism? Bernie Sanders, really? He thinks that increasing everyone’s taxes, including the middle class, is the answer to economic prosperity? Give me a break. And also Bernie’s never been off the public payroll his entire adult life, he’s part of the system.
C&S: You bring up Sanders, and he is in some ways similar to Trump in that he is outside the conventional establishment of Democrats. How does he differ, then, from Trump in terms of his ability to secure votes?
RS: In some ways they’re very much the same because neither one is the toast of Wall Street, but their prescription is very different. Bernie’s prescription is more government, Trump’s is less government. At the same time, both of them are disdained by the establishment. But I think to a certain extent that Sanders’ surprising success is rooted in the fact that he’s not Hillary. There’s a great deal of energy in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and they want an alternative and they’re gravitating to Sanders because he’s the only alternative, even if he is a bit of a kook. But were a more attractive progressive candidate like Elizabeth Warren to step forward, Bernie would melt like the Vermont snow in the summertime.
C&S: A lot of commentators and election analysts have argued that as we get closer to the primaries, the numbers for Trump and Sanders will begin to decrease as they begin to fill more of the activist role of the election and voters begin to coalesce around a more traditional candidate. Trump has said he would drop out if his poll numbers began to suggest this. Do you think that will be the case?
RS: I just got off the phone with Trump about 20 minutes ago. It’s complete nonsense. He was being asked these hypothetical questions – if your poll numbers dropped into the single digits and you had no chance of winning would you get out of the race? And he said, well look, I’m not a masochist, if I had no prospect I would get out the race. But he’s leading, he’s the front-runner. Why don’t some people go after Rand Paul for not getting out of the race? He’s in single digits and moving backwards. He needs a haircut and a new suit. He should try to find some new shirts that fit him, with a collar that fits him. Those would all be good things to do. But why doesn’t someone ask him why he’s not getting out?
Trump is a competitor, he’s a fighter, he’s having the time of his life, so no, I don’t see him getting out the race. But I do think it’s interesting that the people who say that are the same people who said he’d never run, that the whole thing is brand building to get more publicity for the Trump brand and then those same people said he’ll never file his financial disclosures, he’ll never show the American public how much he’s really worth, and of course he filed on time while Jeb Bush had to keep asking for extensions. So no, I don’t think he’s going anywhere, nor should he, given his continued strong standing. The summer of Trump is turning into the fall of Trump. Well, make that the autumn of Trump.
C&S: Do you think that as candidates drop out, Republicans will coalesce around a single establishment candidate, like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush, which could outweigh Trump’s voting bloc?
RS: I don’t think it’s going to work out that way for two reasons. First of all, all of the contests prior to March 15 are proportional delegations, there’s no winner-take-all. Secondarily, with the rise of the super PACs, as long as Marco Rubio has a well-heeled super PAC funded by Norman Braman, for example, it doesn’t matter if he’s in the single digits, why should he get out? If you look at it historically, candidates drop out of the presidential race because they run out of money, and their running out of money is obviously connected to how they’re doing. If you’re doing well, you can raise money, if you’re not, you cease to raise money. But with the super PACs, that’s no longer the case. So I don’t see this field winnowing anytime soon. The other thing I would say is that there are candidates on the right who could drop out whose votes would be more likely to go to Trump. Rand Paul’s votes are more likely to go to Trump. Ted Cruz’s votes might be more likely to go to Trump, although I think he’s in for the long haul and I think he’s running one of the smarter campaigns that I have seen. Also don’t think that the establishment is the majority of the Republican Party anymore. Jeb was going to run a campaign of shock and awe, he was going to roll to the nomination like his brother and his father, but the guy is a putz. He’s moving backwards, he can’t even answer simple questions about why he’s going to be president or why he’s different than his brother and his father. So his expectations were very high and he has not lived up to it.
C&S: You have another book planned for early next year entitled “Jeb! and the Bush Crime Family.” What are your plans beyond that?
RS: I’m not ruling anything out or in, but what I can tell you is that yesterday I signed a contract for another book, which will come out around April of next year, which is called “The Moth: The Unauthorized Biography of Senator Cory Booker.”
C&S: Why Booker of all people?
RS: Because the New Jersey and New York media refuse to. This is a man without accomplishments, who accomplished nothing other than running through a shitload of money to improve the schools in Newark, which accomplished nothing except give some employees $1,000 an hour. This is a man quick with a press release but slow on the legislation. He’s a fraud and the New Jersey media refuses to give it fair coverage and I don’t really know why. So somebody needs to tell his whole story and I think it will make for a terrific read. Oh, and let me wedge the word corruption in there, since he was getting paid $600,000 by a city authority while he was the mayor. The people of Newark, the people of New Jersey, need to know this.