There are so many curious questions swirling around Donald Trump friend Andrew Stein’s Wall Street Journal op-ed recommending that the president dump Mike Pence as his 2020 running mate in favor of Nikki Haley.
For instance, is the long-retired New York politician’s article—which popped up on the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper’s website Sunday afternoon, arguing that campaigning with the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador would solve Trump’s election year troubles with “moderate and Republican-leaning women”—a White House-sanctioned trial balloon?
The answer seemed obvious to some political observers.
“This op-ed pushing a Trump-Nikki Haley ticket is by former NYC pol Andrew Stein,” Never-Trumper Bill Kristol tweeted. “Stein knows Trump, of course, and is close to others in Trump world. Zero chance this trial balloon isn’t ok with Trump.”
Yet the 74-year-old Stein, who founded Democrats for Trump in the fall of 2016—an admittedly small group, especially in New York—and went out of his way in his essay to praise Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks and Sarah Huckabee Sanders as “energetic and effective leaders,” told The Daily Beast on Monday that he didn’t give anyone at the White House, much less the president, a heads-up before submitting it to the Journal.
Asked if anyone in Trumpworld is taking Stein’s advice seriously, meanwhile, a senior administration official texted: “Apart from Haley’s craven consultants, no. Disappointing for him [Stein] to write that.”
The official added: “Also, women don’t reward men who dump loyalists. They are too often the dumpees.”
Stein had yet to hear from the White House by early Monday afternoon.
“I bet you dollars to doughnuts that sometime in the next couple of hours I’ll be hearing from the president; I’m sure he’ll call me,” Stein said, clearly enjoying his new burst of political relevance after decades of what David Patrick Columbia, founder of the New York Social Diary, described as Stein’s quiet life of being “kind of out of the loop.”
“I never see him at social events,” Columbia said. “I do see him at Michael’s”—a reference to the midtown Manhattan media-friendly power-lunch emporium that Stein frequents several times a week, often on Wednesdays when Adweek columnist Diane Clehane used to report on the who’s who of the seating chart.
Given Stein’s 2011 guilty plea to misdemeanor tax evasion and lying to an Internal Revenue Service investigator (a conviction for which he was spared prison time but received three years of probation and 500 hours community service after Geraldo Rivera and other buddies wrote letters to the judge pleading for leniency), there’s a second, even more bizarre question: Is he angling for a role, or possibly even a job, in the Trump administration?
“I don’t want one, pal,” Stein insisted in a phone interview, despite his private musings in recent weeks—to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity—that some sort of Trump world position is exactly what he wants.
“I have a girlfriend here and two kids [adult sons from his 10-year marriage to telecoms entrepreneur and Hillary Clinton chum Lynn Forester]. I have a happy life. Really. When I met him and had dinner with the president-elect on December 28 , he said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘I just want to be able to talk to you and tell you what I think.’ Truly, I didn’t want a formal role.”
Probably—but who knows?—Stein’s criminal record would place a job requiring Senate confirmation decidedly out of reach.
“It really hasn’t [affected his life],” Stein said about his crucible in the criminal justice system. “My accountant said it was a failure to pay taxes on time, it wasn’t tax evasion, and he gave me a letter to that effect. I was wrong and I admitted it was a mistake. I took responsibility for it. But that was, like, nine years ago. It was one misdemeanor.”
Stein said his vocal support for Trump, in a city that has little use and less love for the 45th president, has had a much greater impact on his day-to-day existence.
“People give me a lot of shit,” he said, adding that when he originally endorsed Trump in a September 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “I remember walking to Michael’s from 3rd Avenue and I ran into five different people who said ‘How could you?’”
Stein said he speaks to the president, a friend since the early 1970s, “every couple of weeks,” and has shepherded former Bill and Hillary Clinton pollster—and current antagonist—Mark Penn to the Oval Office for a couple of friendly meetings with Trump.
“I brought him into the White House—the New York Times did a big story about it when I did,” Stein said about Penn. “He’s not officially working with Trump.”
Is Penn advising Trump unofficially?
“He’s not officially or unofficially working with him,” Stein said. “He’s come into the White House a couple of times to meet with the president, but he’s not officially or unofficially supporting him.”
Stein—whose publisher-father, Jerry Finkelstein, was a New York power broker and friend of John F. and Robert Kennedy, among other Democratic politicians who stayed overnight at the family apartment—shortened his surname when he began his political career 51 years ago as a liberal Democrat running for the state assembly and years later, as president of the New York City Council—a largely ceremonial office that no longer exists.
Stein’s friendship with Trump dates back to 1973, when Stein was a 28-year-old member of the New York Assembly and Trump, a recent graduate of the Wharton business school, was the 27-year-old heir of a successful Queens apartment building developer.
“I had dinner with this guy before he was famous,” Stein recalled. “It was at the old Trader Vics in the basement of the Plaza Hotel. That was my first encounter with The Donald. Roy Cohn called me to have dinner with him to talk about rent regulations.”
Stein—who, after his political career ended in 1994, cultivated an image as a wealthy playboy about town, regularly calling the New York Post’s “Page Six” column to pitch items concerning his social life—declined to identify his current girlfriend beyond saying she’s a French photographer named Dominique.
“She doesn’t like any attention,” said Stein, who is close friends with Shirley MacLaine, once dated the late Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton, and whose brief dalliance with Ann Coulter a dozen years ago was amply chronicled by “Page Six.”
Stein, needless to say, can claim no such shyness that he ascribed to his current girlfriend.
“Donald needs to do something to deal with that problem” with female voters, “because it’s not going to go away,” Stein said. “I think Nikki would take away the PR problem to a large extent. She’s extremely popular with everybody, and popular with women. I think [replacing Pence with Haley] is a brilliant move.”
Stein added that he’s not pals with Haley. “I met her, but I don’t really know her,” he said.
Stein said Haley’s presence on the president’s 2020 ticket would have more positive impact with women than the damaging allegations from nearly two dozen women over the past three years—including advice columnist E. Jean Carroll’s disturbing book excerpt in the latest New York magazine—portraying Trump as a serial sexual harasser, assaulter and even (in Carroll’s case) a rapist.
“These stories about Trump and women were circulating during the 2016 campaign” and Trump won anyway, Stein argued. “I haven’t read this latest account,” he answered when asked if he believed Carroll and the other women. “Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to it. Donald is Donald…I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened between Donald and these women. I’m not gonna judge. But Nikki Haley would help him with all these women.”
Stein also defended his erroneous claim in the Wall Street Journal op-ed that Trump’s eventual general election opponent will be damaged by what Stein called the “Democrats’ embrace of infanticide.”
“I don’t know what their platform is gonna be,” Stein said, but then parroted a Trump rally talking point that fact-checkers have deemed a lie. “I’ve heard Elizabeth Warren and almost all the candidates talking about the fact that they’re willing to kill a healthy baby with a healthy mother a day before birth.”
Stein could not identify any Democratic candidate who held such a view. Sen. Warren of Massachusetts supports abortion rights, and wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment forbidding federal funds for the procedure, but neither she nor any of the other Democrats running for president have favored infanticide as described by Stein.
“I am definitely pro-choice,” Stein said—confusingly—and added: “I disagree with Donald in that that I’m pro-choice, but I think the Democrats have taken it much too far.”