Ex-Trump Strategist Explains What the Hell Is Going On With the GOP Front-Runner
A few days ago, Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Roger Stone, suddenly left the campaign. Stone insists he resigned, and that Team Trump simply caught wind of his imminent departure, and leaked word he had been terminated.
I’ve known the legendary strategist for years, and have interviewed him numerous times. I caught up with him for a quick phone call on Monday morning. As always, Roger Stone is both quotable and colorful. Enjoy.
Good to talk with you, as always. What the hell happened this weekend?
I wasn’t fired. I quit. And I quit because I felt I was having no impact on the direction of the campaign, which got off to an extraordinarily good start. I think he’s unique, in that he has the stature and the media access and independence to drive a reform message all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
They claim you were fired.
The claim that I was fired was quickly disproved…I left on my own volition, but I continue to strongly support Trump because I think he has a unique opportunity here, and it would really be tragic if he doesn’t realize his full potential.
Right, but somebody on his campaign presumably lied about this. Aren’t you pissed?
This is the oldest fight in American politics. It’s the advance men and the merchandisers versus those men and women of ideas. I think politics is about sweeping big ideas, and a few memorable phrases to get people to remember them. It’s not about minutiae…and I just think it is tragic that the Trump campaign appears to have gone into this cul-de-sac where we’re bickering with Megyn Kelly—who is not running for president.
This wasn’t the first time Trump said something insulting on this campaign.
In all fairness, he’s absolutely right about illegal immigration…If any illegal commits any crime…that’s one crime too many. And Trump’s very important point was dramatized by the Steinle murder in San Francisco. The illegal who killed this woman had been thrown out of the country and returned five times. The U.S. Senate would not even be considering doing away with sanctuary cities if Donald Trump hadn’t elevated this issue in the public consciousness.
So was it the Megyn Kelly comments that caused you to resign?
In all honesty, I thought Trump won the exchange with Kelly in the debate. He should have just left it there. It was the next day that I think was counterproductive. I was really hoping that he would pivot to his issue agenda.
But instead, he starts tweeting about Megyn Kelly. So are you saying he’s actually sending his own tweets?
Trump’s style is not going to change. He is unscripted. He is unhandled. He is un-coached. Nobody puts words in his mouth. He does operate his own Twitter feed. I just think he is, to a certain extent, being ill served by yes men—people who say “yes sir” but never raise an alternative view of what ought to be done.
It sounds like the villain is his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Is he trying to get rid of Trump loyalists?
Yeah, he reminds me a lot of [former Nixon Chief of Staff] Bob Haldeman—and he’ll probably end up the same way.
What about Sam Nunberg, who got fired the other week over some allegedly racist things he posted on Facebook?
He was the campaign wonk. Very bright guy. He’s got some issues. Yeah, he’s somewhat neurotic—because he believes in ideas. And he believes in Trump. And he wants to see a professional campaign move forward. So, do I think he was set up? Yeah, I do think he was set up. Do I think it’s unfortunate? I think the campaign will miss him.
Back to Megyn Kelly and the “bleeding” comment. Trump claims he wasn’t referring to her period, but—
You know what, Gerald Ford said he didn’t mean Poland was free of Russian influence right after he said it. When you’re explaining, you’re losing ground. When you’re having to go back and explain a gaffe, that’s counterproductive.
But it is a problem to declare war on Fox News, right?
It’s counterproductive. You have to recognize that Fox is reaching somewhere between seven and eight out of ten of the primary voters that Trump needs to be concerned about. CNN is only reaching about four out of ten. Their audiences are very, very different…I think the voters would rather go to war with Iran and China over trade, rather than go to war with Fox News.
Okay, I want to switch gears. There’s an allegation out there today that Trump is funneling money to Breitbart in return for favorable coverage. Is this true?
It’s funny because both [Newsmax’s] Chris Ruddy and [The Daily Caller’s] Tucker Carlson called me this morning to ask where their payoffs are.
That is, to my knowledge, totally false. Trump has never paid for any kind of media coverage, online, or otherwise—at least as far as I know. But [Buzzfeed’s] McKay Coppins is really not a credible reporter. He’s the same guy who wrote that Trump would never run, and that Trump would never file his financial disclosures, and that if Trump did run that he would fall flat on his face.
So McKay Coppins is zero for three. Why anyone would buy his book about the Republican process, given the fact that he’s now zero for four, kind of astounds me.
Damn, you’re good with the quotes. Why don’t we just interview you all the time?
We do. I’m the men’s fashion correspondent for the Daily Caller. And if I don’t get a fashion piece out soon, Tucker’s going to brain me.
Any comments on Trump’s fashion sense?
The most exciting thing in the last week was that Trump decided to wear the red “power tie,” because Trump is the man to define it. The red power tie was on the cover of The Art of The Deal. He’s the guy who made it a thing in the ’70s. It was almost like a signature thing.
It sounds like you wanted to preserve Trump’s unique style, but add maybe just a touch of political strategy and organization to the chaos. It reminds me of what Ed Rollins tried, but failed to do, with Ross Perot, but—
I’m not familiar with Ed Rollins ever actually running a successful campaign. And the one he did run in New Jersey for Christie Whitman, he, of course, ended up before the grand jury, trying to explain whether he had gone out and tried to suppress the black vote.
Second, I’m not really in the school of trashing my clients. I mean, Ed Rollins has trashed “President Bachmann,” who he worked for, “President Huckabee,” who he worked for, “President Perot,” who he worked for. I have no interest in trashing my clients, even when I disagree with them. I am not going to say anything negative about Donald Trump…and I’m not going to be in the Rollins school of denouncing those who have paid me.
So you’re still a Trump fan?
Look, he’s the greatest salesman who ever lived. And that enthusiasm, that upbeat enthusiasm, kind of reminds me of Reagan. He thinks the country is in deep trouble. But that our best days are still ahead of us, not behind us. And it can be infectious. Those of us who are still Trump loyalists use as our hashtag #yuge. The people who use that are the Trump loyalists.
So how does this end?
This is going to be a very long race. I think that because all the primaries up till March 14 are proportional…you could have a very long, drawn out struggle for the nomination. You could have a brokered convention. Therefore, you could have a convention that is settled on the basis of negotiations between the camps. And there is no greater negotiator than Donald Trump.