If Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election on November 8, two things are true, according to political consultant — and Donald Trump’s close friend — Roger Stone. First, that “we are not quite at the point where the mainstream media is losing all of its power.” And second, Trump’s movement isn’t going anywhere.
“The party isn’t going to go back to being the country club party of Jeb Bush,” he said in a phone interview two weeks before Election Day. “It’s not going to go back to being the Washington establishment party of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The Trump movement is going to be dominant in the party, it’s going to be influential and important in the party.”
To conservatives hoping defeated Trump supporters will tuck their tails after a Trump loss, Stone’s perspective is likely unwelcome.
Stone has known Trump for decades — he consulted on his 2000 presidential campaign and has been an unwavering supporter in the 2016 election.
He frequently calls in to Infowars — Alex Jones’s far-right, conspiracy-driven talk show — to flesh out his latest Clinton attacks. Last month it was a conspiracy theory about “Hillary’s kill count,” a list of political insiders he says died because of the Clintons. A month before that he was dissecting Clinton’s health, spreading widely debunked rumors. He also reportedly personally coordinated Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct accusers’ appearance just before the second debate and is organizing a voter intimidation scheme, calling on Trump supporters to “protect” the polls.
To reporters who interact with him, Stone is a performance artist, well dressed in his double-breasted suits and suspenders, good at giving journalists the outlandish quotes they call him for. He’s been in politics for more than 40 years, worked for Ronald Reagan, and was involved in the Watergate scandal as a 19-year-old. He has a picture of Richard Nixon’s face tattooed on his back and takes credit for exposing Eliot Spitzer.
But on the phone with me, he was calm and methodical. He wants to make it very clear that he has no formal role in Trump’s campaign, and that — parallels to their personal styles aside — they differ in political ideology. Stone would have run Trump’s campaign differently.
Even so, it’s hard to not see Stone and Trump as anything but kindred spirits. Stone is not a central figure in the Republican Party or in Trump’s campaign, but he represents a school of thought that has suddenly won the Republican Party’s nomination with Donald Trump. And according to him, it’s not going anywhere.
Here is our conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
I want to talk to you about the Roger Stone school of thought — where you see it in Republican politics now, where you see it going.
To start with a really basic question: How do you define conservatism?
I’m a libertarian conservative. I am not a neocon. I am not an isolationist. But I’m a non-interventionist.
I was opposed to the Iraq War at the time. I still think it was a bad idea. I don’t understand why we go around the globe looking for trouble. For example, in Syria, neither side here is an ally or friend of ours. Assad finances Hezbollah, which is propped up by the Russians, and ISIS is propped up by the Saudis. The Saudis pretend to be our friend, but sadly they are not. I don’t see why we should shed a single drop of American blood, or a single dollar of taxpayer money, over Syria.
I am, I guess, what you would call progressive on social issues — what I would call libertarian. I believe in the legalization of marijuana, I support — and marched for — the legalization of gay marriage.
I don’t see those as liberal positions. I see those as conservative positions. The government should not tell the individual what they should smoke, what they should eat, who they should love, who they can marry. I actually take the view that that is the more conservative position.
But of course, on taxes, particularly, and on spending, I’m an economic conservative. Traditional sense. Although I am more pro-growth. I am a supply-sider; I do believe that tax reduction does help spur economic growth and job creation.
It’s a hodgepodge. But I have been around a long time, and just like everybody else there was a time I was a lockstep Barry Goldwater Republican. But like most people, I have evolved on most issues.
How does your brand of politics fit into the Republican Party of 2016?
The election of Reagan really brought conservatism to the fore. He was so dominant in our politics that it allowed for the first time conservatives to have many branches. The movement became broader; there were fiscal conservatives, there were social conservatives, there were foreign policy conservatives, there were neocons. All these people calling themselves conservatives.
All I did was fit into that movement. Goldwater was my formative political experience. I got involved in politics because I read Goldwater’s book when I was a kid and I thought it was just incredible. Immediately I was transfixed. No longer did I want to be an actor; I wanted to be in politics.
Reagan’s election was really the final manifestation of the Goldwater movement, and I think it is analogous to what you see today.
Meaning Goldwater was nominated. He lost. The party establishment types thought, well, now the party got this out of its system, they will go back to nominating establishment figures. Onward. Of course, that didn’t happen. Goldwater himself kind of declined to lead the movement after his defeat. But the Goldwater movement went on to transform the party and elect Reagan. Nixon had to make his peace with the Goldwater movement to get nominated in 1968 and reelected in 1972.
This is analogous to Trump. The party isn’t going to go back to being the country club party of Jeb Bush. It’s not going to go back to being the Washington establishment party of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. The Trump movement is going to be dominant in the party; it’s going to be influential and important in the party. And we have been — particularly in the area of breaking with neocons on both war and trade.
The greatest single mistake in the Republican Party in the last 30 years is how we have come down in both war and trade; NAFTA, TPP, the Iraq War, war in Afghanistan, and so on. Trump changes all of that, whether he wins or not.
Do you think there has been a scramble to unify the party with the evangelical Republicans or the Mormon Republicans?
There are different types of conservatives.
Like the media, the conservative movement has become diffuse. We can afford to have different brands of conservatism.
I don’t think a conservative or liberal is the right measure anymore. I think the right measure is insider, outsider. Trump is an outsider. He is a billionaire, he went to an Ivy League school, but he is not the Wall Street establishment. And he is essentially opposed by the insiders.
Do you consider Donald Trump to follow your brand of conservatism?
No, not really. Actually he is very different than I am. He is a little more traditional — especially on social issues.
For example, Nixon’s two greatest mistakes would have to be the war on drugs, which was an ignominious expensive failure, and closing the gold window.
Trump is still a hard-liner on drugs. Trump’s ideology is unique. He is still anti-Republican establishment on trade and war.
It’s funny you say that — having read your comments on politics before, it seems as though the two of you are kindred spirits. What do you make of that assertion?
Well, that would probably be in strategy.
Look, I have no formal involvement in his campaign. This is not my campaign, and this is not the campaign I would have run —
Tell me more about that. How would you have run Trump’s campaign?
— That said, I have been as supportive as I can. And when I can’t be supportive I have just kept my mouth shut.
To frame the question another way, where have you seen the Trump campaign go best, and where would you have advised differently?
He has done a good job of making the issue of immigration his own. We would not have even been talking about sanctuary cities if he hadn’t run for president and raised his concerns against it.
I think he did surprisingly well in the debates considering he is not trained as a politician. There were times that [Clinton] threw some softballs out there — she raised mandatory minimum sentences. That’s almost unbelievable that he didn’t jam the 1995 crime bill down her throat that she and her husband supported.
On the other hand, I thought his greatest moment was when he nailed her on TPP. She is a poll watcher, and she is trying to sound more and more like Trump on some issues where she is seeing him hit a chord.
I just think the Clintons are political professionals. They have been through multiple presidential campaigns, they really understand how the mechanics work, and I just don’t see anybody on the Trump campaign with that kind of depth of understanding.
For example, in Florida, absentee ballots are very important. Traditionally you do push mail to get people to apply for it and then you do chase mail to get people to mail them in. I learned yesterday that the Trump campaign has done neither. That boggles the mind.
That just boggles the mind.
At a mechanical level I would have done things differently. The campaign isn’t over, but his economic plan is really attractive stuff. I would like to hear him talk about it more, and I’d like to hear him apply it specifically to Hispanics and the Hispanic community and to African Americans.
He has a unique opportunity with African Americans.
I am data-driven. I have always been data-driven. We don’t guess in this business. Political strategy, to me, is figuring out what votes you already have and figuring out how to maximize them; figuring out what votes you can get, and figuring out what messages get them; and then figuring out the application of those messages.
I feel strongly that this year afforded a superb opportunity for Trump to make grounds with African Americans who have no particular affinity for Hillary. They liked her husband for cultural reasons. He flipped on the shades and played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall. Then I think younger women is also another area. Hillary’s numbers in terms of trustworthiness and believability are very thin — you could make grounds there.
If you recognize that Clinton’s 1992 strategy was to go after moderates in the South and West who had begun going Republican and bring them back to the Democratic Party, that’s very different than an Obama strategy of maximizing the vote on everybody on the left.
The theory that the Republicans maximize every voter on the right and [the Democrats’] stack is larger than ours — probably true. Meaning that you have to make some inroads into traditionally Democratic constituency groups. It’s part of what you have to do to win.
Talking about things you have to do to win. You are characterized as a dirty trickster. Is that a winning strategy?
I don’t think that is a fair characterization. It is a caricature that was born out of things I did when I was 19 years old.
The idea that I am constantly plotting dirty tricks against my political opponents is a misnomer. I think I have a pretty good big picture view on how to move undecideds into your campaign and how to go after constituencies that are for your opponent.
So when are dirty politics appropriate?
Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t; it depends whether your polling indicates that is the right thing to do.
And in what instances has that not been the right thing to do?
I’m not sure I have a good answer.
A lot of people think that politics is all about negative adage. That’s not really true. There are sometimes where your data indicates that is the right thing and times that it is not
You are also known for sharing information — conspiracy theories — that have been largely debunked, like stories about Hillary Clinton having severe health problems. What do you see the relationship with the truth there?
No, I don’t accept that has been debunked. My eyes don’t lie to me. I don’t think that she is in good health.
I guess we’ll see. We’ll find out.
I see you on Infowars often; you say you read Breitbart and the New York Times. What do you see as the role of journalism in this election?
Well, it’s very hard to find an objective journalist. Look the juxtaposition [with] the Watergate period, where Woodward and Bernstein essentially forged a whole new brand of investigative journalism by uncovering the deep secrets of Richard Nixon.
I think the mainstream media of this race have done the exact opposite. They have gone out of their way to bury the deep secrets of Hillary Clinton, discounting to some extent some of the interesting things that have come out of WikiLeaks. It’s the exact opposite of what the free press is supposed to be doing. In nine presidential campaigns I have never seen this kind of media bias ever.
Has that given room for something like Trump TV?
Let’s recognize that the media has changed. There was a time were three television networks had the monopoly and a handful of newspapers. And regional newspapers.
The media is now diffuse. With the advent of cable and talk radio and the internet that people are getting their news on demand, it is no longer possible to suppress information. If it isn’t covered by CNN, it’s covered by Infowars. There are far more people watching Infowars than CNN, by the way, if you go do the math — and add those seeing it in live stream and those seeing in Facebook and those seeing it in podcast, it dwarfs CNN.
Putting politics aside, that’s the model of the futures. I just feel like this has been very healthy for democracy.
If Trump is defeated, we are not quite at the tipping point where mainstream media —which is losing its ratings — is losing its power.
That tipping point is coming, and alternative media is going to — and not just conservative media — but alternative media will replace it.
What do you say to the Republicans that have denounced Trump? Some have come back; some have come back and then denounced again.
I find it interesting that the establishment has rallied behind people they didn’t necessarily like, Romney, McCain, but when the shoe was on the other foot, the party establishment types took a walk on one of the most populist nominees we have had.
It’s kind of like Goldwater — they take a walk.
I think it is a betrayal of the party. There are certain party responsibilities. I think in the end, Ted Cruz was smart to finally endorse Trump after failing to do so at the convention. The party people hold that against you in the long term.
There is a good chance Republicans will hold Congress. What do specific policies do you want to see from them?
Growth-oriented economic policies. If you have strong economy, the rest can basically fix itself. You can build on military strength, you can spend more on social programs.
Would you ever take a position in a Trump administration?
No, I am completely unconfirmable. Government was not my thing.
I like the fight. I like the challenge of a campaign.