Tag Archives: Roger Stone

Bromancing the Stone: Roger Stone dishes on Trump, Florida and political combat

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“They may call me a dirty trickster. I’m a real partisan; I’ve got sharp elbows. But there’s on thing that isn’t in my bag of tricks: treason.” Roger Stone has never backed away from a fight; indeed, he almost relishes starting them. Stone has been a human melee weapon, wielded to great effect in some of the biggest political brawls of the past half-century, dating back to his earliest years in the crucible that was the Nixon White House.

“1968 and 2016 were very similar, in many ways,” he says. “Just as leaders, Donald Trump and Nixon are similar. They’re both really pragmatists, neither is an ideologue, they’re both essentially populists with conservative instincts. … Both of them are very persistent, both of them had to come back from disaster.” The opposition is praying for further disaster, and they may well get their wish. To that end, Stone is one of several Trump affiliates under investigation for their dealings with various foreign nationals whose efforts helped facilitate Trump’s victory.

Stone’s newest book, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution” (Skyhorse Publishing) lifts its title from the seminal series written every four years between 1960 and 1980 by journalist Theodore H. White (1915-1986), a quintessential DC Beltway insider who is, no doubt, spinning in his grave as we speak. One can’t help but view this choice as high-level trolling of the first order, which is his forte.

The subtitle is cunningly phrased, as every conceivable meaning of the words “orchestrated” and “revolution” seem to fit in this case. Speaking of which, Stone’s book notes the crucial role of one revolution—that waged in the Democratic primary by Bernie Sanders—in helping foreshadow the future president’s. “In many ways, Trump and Bernie, they’re riding the same wave. Donald’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America, and Bernie’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America. … And also, new voters: Both Trump and Bernie Sanders attract new voters in the primaries. It’s just more people upset about the so-called ‘rigged system’. Bernie rags constantly about the corruption and the power of Wall Street; so does Trump. So I think they’re very similar.”

This similarity was noted early on, and was key to Trump’s victory, according to Stone. “In order to win, Trump had to win three of ten Sanders voters, and he did.” Despite being a nominal frontrunner, Hillary Clinton was burdened with a top-heavy hierarchical campaign, largely disconnected from political reality. For all her billions spent, that money was squandered on failed strategies and poor logistics, reaching a peak as Trump barnstormed battleground states in the closing days, while Hillary had already begun taking victory laps. The Clintons expended so much time and energy fending off the Sanders insurgency that they never really got a handle on what awaited them in the general.

“I think they made the exact same mistake as did Jimmy Carter,” says Stone, who worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980. “The Clintons misunderstood Trump’s appeal. They didn’t think that his simple messaging would be credible; they didn’t understand that Trump talks more like average people than elites. The underestimated both his skill as a candidate, they underestimated his skill as a communicator, and they underestimated his ability to land a punch.”

When Trump first declared for president in 2015, there was almost no one who thought the man had any chance at all—except for Stone, who had raised the very possibility as early as 1988, when he arranged a meeting between Trump and his earliest political benefactor, Richard Nixon. “It certainly seemed possible to me, but let’s recognize that I’m a professional political operative, and I had at that point nine individual presidential campaigns in which I’m playing a senior role as experience. Plus I’ve known Donald Trump for 39 years; I have a very keen knowledge of his management style, his style on the stump, so I understand a lot of the basis of his appeal. … Trump is a giant, and he ran against a lot of career politicians who were essentially pygmies.”

As usual, Florida was a decisive factor in the election, and Stone expects that to continue in 2018. “Florida has proven once again to be the ultimate purple state. It truly is a state that’s always competitive in a presidential race, and less competitive, leaning slightly Republican, in a non-presidential race. The Democrats in Florida, because they have been out of power in the legislature so long, and because they have (generally-speaking) not done well in local offices, they really have no bench. They are yet to come up with a candidate who is a viable candidate for governor. It’s WAY too early to try to determine how Trump’s candidacy will impact the Florida electorate; it’s an entirely open question. Trump could be exceedingly popular, if he sticks to his agenda and gets things done by the mid-terms, or he could be unpopular, theoretically, for any number of reasons. But in politics, a year is a lifetime.”

Speaking of Florida, 2018 will be the first year in nearly three decades in which the shadow of Jeb Bush will not be blanketing the states political landscape, and by Stone’s reckoning, you can thank Trump for putting our former governor into permanent retirement. “If Jeb had stayed in the race, and there had been another debate, Trump was prepared to say, ‘Jeb, the [FDLE] had over 22 individual tips about the 9/11 hijackers training in Sarasota; you seem to have done nothing with that information. Don’t you think you could have stopped the attack on America if you had actually done something?’ That was coming, and I think Jeb knew it was coming, and of course that’s all documentable. Only Trump would’ve had the courage to do something like that.”

Today, at 64, Stone is prepping for what may be his biggest fight to date, waged on behalf of his good friend, President Donald J. Trump, whose election was somewhat controversial, to say the least. Although Stone has not officially worked for Trump since last fall, he remains very much in the mix, as far as the president’s wider circle of advisors and adjutants. Indeed, the fact is that the very idea of Donald Trump as POTUS originates in the always-fertile mind of Roger Stone, who never stops thinking of new angles and novel approaches to shaking up the political status quo. Of course, a lot of folks really wish he would stop, but after last year, that seems unlikely.

Whereas most folks tend to get all shy and introspective when talk of subpoenas begins, Stone is embracing his opportunity to face off with congressional Democrats before a live, mainstream audience. Having served in the White House under presidents Nixon and Reagan, Stone is by no means a stranger in Beltway circles, but his appearance at the Capitol will mark, for many national observers, their initial introduction to a man that, without whom, everything would be different today.

Stone has still not appeared before Congress at press-time, but he has made no secret of his enthusiasm. “They dragged my name through the mud in a public hearing. Several statements made by members were just flatly incorrect, others were chronologically out of order, and still others were written in such a pejorative way that I must have the opportunity to take that language and re-tell it my way, and then bitch-slap the member for his partisanship. … Here’s my proposal: Waive your congressional immunity, so I may sue you, and we’ll let a judge and jury decide if you have slimed me. And you know they won’t do that.”

sheltonhull@gmail.com

March 28, 2017

 

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Nixon in the Rear-View: Three newish books offer three fresh perspectives on our 37th President

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The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Pat Buchanan. New York: Crown Forum/Random House. 392 pp, illustrated.

Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate and the Pardon, by Roger Stone, with Mike Colapietro. New York; Skyhorse Publishing. 661 pp, illustrated.

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage, by Will Swift. New York: Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster. 447 pp, illustrated.

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The year 2014 was an important one for the friends, family and fans of America’s infamous 37th president, who died 20 years ago this April. August 8th marked the 40-year anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, followed by his dramatic exit from office the following day. It was the beginning of a long journey back into America’s good graces, a process that continues to this day. This country and the entire world have changed a lot since his death, and time has rendered a different judgment of Nixon than the one rendered in his lifetime, as old information combines with new developments to clarify old perceptions.

These anniversaries have triggered a small flood of Nixonalia into the marketplace, and each project wrestles with a central problem: Richard Nixon is not a man who can be spoken of objectively. The nature of his work forces all those who study it to make their own decision at so many different points. Let’s keep it real: His enemies called him “Tricky Dick”, and even his allies would concede how utterly appropriate the nickname was—more so than maybe any president since Andrew Jackson, aka “Old Hickory”. HBO released “Nixon: In His Own Words”, an excellent 75-minute mashup of audio clips and video footage spanning the scope of his career. It’s an ideal introduction to one of the great character studies of the entire 20th century.

Richard Milhous Nixon cut one of the most unique swaths through our nation’s political history, and that influence persists today, a generation after he took leave of this dimension. As President Obama lurches toward the anticlimactic end of his administration, recent scandals have proven that, despite whatever early pretensions he may have had to the legacy of JFK, history will regard him as the closest thing we’ve had to Nixon since Nixon himself—a cold-blooded pragmatist, driven by inner tensions that he can hardly articulate.

Each of the three books tends to center on specific aspects of Nixon’s story, and will be of varying appeal, depending on the reader’s views of the subject. Two of the authors can be considered partisans: Buchanan and Stone were both recruited and trained in part by Nixon himself, and both went on to work for Reagan, as well.

But just as Nixon’s worst enemies would allow for the man’s obvious ability, his key supporters will readily own up to his major flaws—and, seen in its totality, the Nixon Legacy seems like something that could have never gone any differently than it did. Although Nixon himself would later own up to his many mistakes, it is unlikely that, given the opportunity, he would have never corrected them, because Richard Nixon was, by all accounts, pathologically incapable of admitting weakness. The whole debacle involving the infamous “Nixon Tapes” is a case in point. Even as his presidency was lurching, slowly and painfully toward its inevitable conclusion, he retained the power to save his presidency by simply burning the tapes.

Of course, veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, who started working for Nixon while barely out of his teens, posits that Nixon was set up for scandal by his own underlings, through a combination of incompetence and outright corruption, and that even he may not have known exactly what was up until the end. By the time his resignation was a fait accompli, the old man (who aged prematurely, like they all do) had already pivoted into plotting his post-presidency career. Stone argues that the affable ax-man Gerald Ford was selected to replace Spiro Agnew with a mind toward the pardon that he would eventually grant the fallen Nixon; he further argues that Nixon secured that pardon essentially through blackmail—specifically, his knowledge of Ford’s crucial role in whitewashing what became the Warren Commission Report. And that is the axis around which his narrative rotates.

Only in recent years has it become common knowledge that many of the people closest to the situation—Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and even Fidel Castro—had all privately admitted extreme skepticism of the commission’s findings. Note that the latter three frequently turn up in conspiracy theories related to the real architects of the assassination; for what it’s worth, Stone fixes the blame squarely on LBJ, as he wrote in his previous book, and one may assume that his views were influenced heavily by Nixon’s own.

During his presidency, Nixon was known for making frequent references to “the Bay of Pigs situation”, particularly as the Watergate investigation began to pick up steam. Although he never spoke to the point directly, it was always widely believed that the phrase was a reference to the murder of JFK, but Stone makes this theory explicit: In his telling, Nixon as Vice-President was deputized by Eisenhower to plot the removal of Fidel Castro, in conjunction with the CIA and members of the mafia who’d been alienated by the Cuban regime. This effort, called “Operation 40”, led directly to the ridiculous failed assassination plots run by Bobby Kennedy under his brother, which then led directly to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which many (including Stone) led directly to the tragedy in Dallas in November 1963. (Add Stone’s name, also, to the list of writers who have alleged that other assassination plots had been in the works prior to November 1963.)

What made all this relevant to Nixon’s interests is that A) JFK was, at one point, a friend of his, and, having survived attempts on his own life over the years, he was deeply disturbed by the idea of any president being killed; and B) Nixon knew that several of the people thought to be involved in the murder plot—including people like Frank Sturgis, Felix Rodriguez, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Roselli and the infamous E. Howard Hunt, who confessed membership in the conspiracy shortly before his own death—were veterans of Nixon’s Operation 40, and as such he knew he could’ve been implicated in the conspiracy himself, even though he presumably was not. The fact that Hunt and Sturgis both went on to be part of the original Watergate burglary team is a historical anomaly that, in Stone’s telling, led directly to the Plumbers’ apparent failure, and the end of their boss’ tenure.

Stone’s book “Nixon’s Secrets” is probably the most must-read of the three books. It’s loaded with insider dirt, rendered by an author whose dirty-tricks credentials are rock-solid. Stone’s book is kind of a throwback to this writer’s personal favorite Nixon book, Anthony Summers’ infamous biography The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000), a tome crafted and marketed as an epic takedown that, as so often with aspects of Nixon’s blowback, backfired.

In a country that glorifies gangsters and anti-heroes of all stripes, it makes perfect sense that Richard Nixon is arguably more popular now that he was at any point in his life, and his fan-base is built heavily around people who weren’t even alive during his presidency. Their views of that era are colored by their living memory of all the (for lack of a better word) shenanigans that have transpired in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation: the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan getting shot, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Lewinsky, the Drug War, the Patriot Act, two attacks on the World Trade Center, two Iraq wars and countless skirmishes and incidents elsewhere, leading up to things like the NSA and TSA today. It is frankly hypocritical for Americans to pretend that the 1970s elite consensus regarding Nixon remains valid in today’s world, given the men we elected to succeed him as president. At least half of those six may have eclipsed Nixon, in terms of pure ruthlessness, and maybe all of them.

For today’s GOP to attack President Obama for using Nixonian tactics—which he does, no doubt—creates the kind of bitter, cynical historical irony that only Nixon could appreciate. And when one considers that the three most successful presidents since Nixon (Reagan, Clinton, Obama), all basically came up from nothing, with fathers who were either absent or insufficient, and all grew up with chips on their shoulders that they carried into the White House with them, along with the attendant defense mechanisms, creating a psychological component that directly influenced their own presidencies (for better or for worse) it could well be argued that we are still living in the Age of Nixon, because they all worked variations on a theme that he established in the larger narrative of the presidency as an institution. The only difference between he and them is that (as every Nixon scholar seems to agree) Nixon was never able to check his darker impulses, which eventually consumed him. But then again, Nixon never had Nixon’s example to draw upon.

As time has passed, and the principals on all sides have grown older, passed on and left their (always selective) memories behind, Nixon’s controversial run has come to be seen in a broader context. This process was initiated by Nixon himself during the David Frost interviews in 1977, his Oxford Union gig in 1978 and the publication of his memoirs that same year. While Nixon did not invent the concept of “revisionist history”, he was without question the all-time master of its use in American politics, and the broader culture. It’s hard to think of another public figure in our nation’s history whose posthumous reputation is more different than their reputation in life, and certainly not in a positive way. Again, this was probably Nixon’s plan all along. Only he could have understood what honest observers would now concede: that the historical value of keeping the White House Tapes would transcend the disastrous short-term effect that it had on his presidency.

Even after he resigned he left behind the framework for what would become a winning coalition for Reagan and Bush that later gave his party 12 more years of power—or 20, if one counts George W. Bush, a very different type of Republican, no doubt. Buchanan’s book goes into great detail on the process of triangulating between two parties that were both in transitional phases; he shows how, at all points in the 1960s, Nixon was working toward an end-game that most of his peers were unable to figure out until it was basically over. Nixon was consistently ahead of the curve when it came to almost everything, except his own career; he consistently sacrificed his short-term interests in favor of long-term legacy concerns, culminating with the fateful and fatal decision not to destroy his tapes, and it’s only now, long after his death, that we can appreciate that calculation

Time has leveled a sort of equilibrium to Nixon’s legacy, in that casual observers will remember him mostly for perceived misdeeds that history has given context to, in not exactly validation. On matters like Alger Hiss, the escalation of war in Indochina, the Pentagon Papers and even the Oval Office tapes themselves, time has led more people to believe Nixon simply made the least-disastrous choice in a number of lose-lose situations that were often not of his doing.

The present era of global chaos makes some nostalgic for the man who engaged Communists in China and Russia, reached out to Arab moderates while strengthening America’s relationship with Israel and managed to pass a wave of progressive social policies while ratcheting up the war on drugs. Nixon had a special kind of hustle that we will likely never see again on any level of the business, and that in my opinion is to our permanent disadvantage.

Hillary Clinton (who might not have met her husband, at least not have met her husband, had the two young rising Democratic stars not shared a common enemy in Nixon, but that’s another story) once defined the difference between politicians and statesmen thusly: A politician thinks of the next election, while a statesman thinks of the next generation. Nixon was both, in spades, but 40 years after his final disgrace, more and more Americans are coming to recognize that his disgrace was not really not that disgraceful after all.

Swift notes that Pat Nixon always suspected that her husband’s undoing may have related to willful shenanigans by members of the Watergate burglary team acting at cross-purposes—a hypothesis that Stone makes extensive effort to verify in Nixon’s Secrets. He implicates Alexander Butterfield, who installed Nixon’s taping system and then revealed its existence to Congress—unprovoked, in his telling—while also calling out the incompetence of key functionaries like Bob Haldeman, John Erlichmann and John Mitchell, who were all key to Nixon’s political rebirth but whose personal flaws contributed to their boss’ undoing, and their own eventual imprisonment.

Stone reserves special venom for John Dean, whom he places at the center of a conspiracy to undermine the president for self-serving ends, and whose own multiple versions of the story are painstaking elucidated. Their feud has only burned hotter since the book’s release; it would make an interesting debate. Stone also hits Alexander Haig, while alleging that he was among the sources for former Navy intelligence operative Bob Woodward, whose seminal reporting on the scandal was, in Stone’s telling, largely specious, if not transparently false. He flatly rejects the idea of Mark Felt being Deep Throat, suggesting the character was merely a composite of several people.

Stone has obviously given a lot of thought to Watergate and related matters, and his views are useful addendums to the established narrative. (Stone and Dean had a brief, but vitriolic verbal battle at the Austin Book Festival; their dispute may ultimately have to be settled in court.) Stone’s next book, due later this year, focuses on the Clintons, and promises to be potentially even more explosive than Nixon’s Secrets. And with a potential run for US Senate in the works for 2016, with Hillary Clinton seeking the presidency in the same year, there is no reason for him to hold anything back, and no reason to think he’d even consider it. Because, after all, he is a Nixon man.

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