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Roger Stone and The End of an Era

There are only two professions in America in which one can meet so many felons: organized crime and disorganized politics. No wonder longtime GOP consultant Eddie Mahe once called campaigns “garbage moving in the right direction.”

Before the age of 24-hour cable, Facebook, value shaming, and Twitter, there was a time in American politics when one needed more than a social media following and a pulse to be a political consultant. You could be weirdly sincere, unapologetically corrupt, principled, opportunistic, selfless, ruthless, comically evil, flamboyant, or just plain nuts. You could be all these things and a myriad of others. There was only one thing you needed to be.

You needed to be good.

It was the purest form of the marketplace. Those who were good prospered. Those who weren’t were winnowed out. Recall the sad tale of the “homeless Republican consultant,” which the Washington Post reported with unbridled glee many years ago. A man went to Washington to join the ranks of GOP campaign advisors, had a few small successes, had more big failures, and ended up on the streets, penniless.

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It’s tough now to count how many perfectly tailored, perfectly messaged, perfectly coiffed, and perfectly vapid consultants are routinely featured on most cable news networks. They seem to know everything, except how to win. I’ve known people who have worked in American politics for 40 years or more and can’t recall ever stumbling across any of these poseurs. Neither have others I’ve known and respected. Nowadays, everybody is a “Republican consultant” it seems, but it is not a heroic Spartacus moment. Many wonder how these “celebrity cable consultants” eat.

As the immortal Dorothy Parker once said, “Authors and artists and actors and such, never know nothing and never know much.” Parker would have added political consultants to her pithy put-down of the shallow, had any stumbled into the Algonquin bar in the 1920s.

Social media has reduced consultants to a narrow band of acceptable persons and personalities. It’s less about understanding a facet of the country and more about affirming the conventional wisdom. Granted, the Trump campaign has had its share of…unique figures, yet most were flashes in the pan. We can comfortably predict that Omarosa’s political future is at an end, for example, as is Anthony Scarmucci’s.

But Roger Stone was the last of an era, an age. While many hope his end will herald a new, clean age of campaigning, I’m sorry to say that the same exploitation will continue; the only difference is that it will be neither eccentric nor effective.

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There are consultants who have lost every campaign they’ve ever worked on, yet make good money and their opinions are given the weight of a kingmaker. To be fair, if the ratings are to be believed, these ne’er-do-wells make for good cable news—but not good campaigns. I can think of one such GOP consultant who has never won a national campaign. Ever. Even by accident—although he has been fingered as the reason for some candidates losing. But there he is, on “Meet The Press” and “Morning Joe,” spewing tiny pearls of borderline insight and very conventional wisdom. Other GOP consultants invariably find their way onto the MSNBC and CNN shows, which are ever eager to put on anyone who claims to have licked an envelope on a losing Republican campaign to batter Donald Trump.

Dark side? You bet.

As curious as Roger Stone’s arrest was, it is also a sign that the time of those eccentrically effective consultants may have drawn to a close. The claim by CNN that they happened to be at the raid on a “hunch” is laughable and may be the strangest coincidence [1] since the Reichstag fire. But that is just the new marriage between big media and big government.

For those of us who made our political bones in the latter half of the 20th century, figures like Stone were a constant source of intrigue. He walked a fine ethical line, was cunning and sometimes malicious, and yet was so damned good that a part of you respected him. To wit, over the last 10 elections, Ronald Reagan is the only Republican to have won New York, and he won it twice. A young Roger Stone, Reagan’s regional political director for the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, helped make that happen. Stone helped win those three states for Reagan. Twice.

In Connecticut alone, in 1980, Stone personally recruited 300 moderate Republicans to cross the No Man’s Land between the establishment and the conservative movement to support the Gipper—in the primary, over the homegrown George H.W. Bush. In 1987, Stone, working for the campaign of Congressman Jack Kemp, was the driving force behind Newsweek writing the awful and unfair cover story “The Wimp Factor,” about Bush, the war hero.

He was one among an entire breed of weirdly successful consultants, controversial and reminiscent of other characters of American politics, including Paul Corbin, Lyn Nofziger, and Arthur Finkelstein. Each of these men was hugely effective and each marched to his own drum. Corbin, a Democrat and a Kennedyite of long standing, actually helped JFK win the Republican stronghold of Upstate New York, something no one thought possible in 1960. A hater of Jimmy Carter, Corbin stole and delivered the Carter briefing books to the Reagan-Bush campaign as a means of bringing him down in the 1980 campaign and restoring Camelot in 1984 with the election of Senator Ted Kennedy to the presidency. Corbin was not crazy.

Nofziger was the “Michael Corleone” of the American right. He didn’t want to wipe out everybody. Just his enemies. He also was peerless in his advice to the Gipper, keeping him out of many scrapes over the years. His contempt for the system was legendary, down to his wearing of Mickey Mouse ties and refusing to sport White House passes.

Nofziger protégé Ed Rollins qualifies in his own right as both effective and a singular character. Finkelstein was sui generis, an eccentric recluse who shunned the spotlight and just did his job, winning one so-called helpless campaign after another, against all odds, over many years.

Not too curiously, all these characters were very good gamblers—Corbin and Stone at cards, Finkelstein played the ponies, and Nofziger at everything. They were all right out of a Damon Runyon novel. So is Stone. And all were utterly charming when the need called for it.

James Carville’s “Ragin’ Cajun” affectations would rank him lower on the list of outward facing consultants and pundits. Just too forced, too contrived.

Roger, for a time, wandered from his first, best calling, writing several books that, while bestsellers, were mostly popular with the propeller beanie cap set. One accused Lyndon Johnson of orchestrating the assassination of President Kennedy (it was the next to last conspiracy theory to be tried, the last being that JFK committed suicide). But it was at politics that he excelled.

At a tender age, Roger orchestrated the notorious “Canuck” letter in 1972, which helped sink the Ed Muskie campaign for the Democratic nomination. The fake letter accused Muskie of using the work “Canuck” as an ethnic slur and was sent to the right-wing Manchester Union Leader, which published it with glee. Muskie denounced the paper on the street in front of the Union Leader, but then dissolved into tears before the New Hampshire primary. Canadian-Americans were a sizable voting bloc in the Granite State. Muskie was seen as the best Democrat to defeat Nixon in 1972. As was once said about another dirty trickster, “If you have a job do to and you don’t care how it’s done, send Paul Corbin.”

Roger was never caught, but he was accused of “sabotage and espionage” by the Senate Watergate committee in 1973. As I wrote in my book Reagan Rising, “His dry wit and knowledge of ethnic and urban policy kept him at the cutting edge of politics in the 1970’s—with an eye toward sartorial splendor, he had a flair for high fashion and high jinks—but he derived a daredevil’s thrill from edging too close (too close for some) to the ethical line…. Yet, he kept coming back, and seemed to have more lives than a cat.”

During the 1972 Nixon campaign, he assigned a security guard, Michael McMinoway, “to infiltrate Democratic presidential campaigns in several states.” Stone also floated fake stories about socialists supporting Congressman Pete McCloskey, effectively sandbagging his quixotic campaign to challenge Nixon in the 1972 primariesStone was very good at winning—at all costs.

When Stone was elected chairman of the Young Republicans in 1977, his defeated opponent led a walkout of several hundred. Finagling was charged, but Stone airily replied, “Eastern liberals who are too old to be Young Republicans” were the only ones complaining.

Later, the now-deceased columnists Bob Novak and Rowly Evans wrote, “Even Republicans too insensitive to worry about the impact of Roger Stone’s past are getting worried about his future.” They wrote that 42 years ago.

Knowing Roger, he may just spit the hook—one more time.

Craig Shirley is a presidential historian and Reagan biographer. He is the author of four books on Ronald Reagan, a definitive biography of Newt Gingrich, Citizen Newt, the New York Times bestseller December 1941and his newest, Honored Madam, a biography of Mary Ball Washington, due out this fall.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Roger Stone and The End of an Era"

#1 Comment By here and there On February 5, 2019 @ 11:36 pm

This trip down memory lane seems to give the lie to the “we’re tired of losing” defense. Twas ever thus and such.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 6, 2019 @ 1:04 am

Uhhh, excuse me. I have watched the Netflix program on Mr Stone twice. it is a fascinating history with plenty of wincing moments. He is in my view more than intriguing. even likeable in my view.

The Spec Prosecutor’s fancies notwithstanding.

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But the above referenced comment has me a bit baffled.

On Pres. Carter, a decent man who stood no chance after the taking of the embassy in Tehran and the failed mission to rescue them. Briefing books or no briefing books, it was not going to happen, in my view.

#3 Comment By Whine Merchant On February 6, 2019 @ 3:40 am

“Ruthless but effective, he’s one of a dying breed of consultant. But has he met his match in Mueller?”

Well from Tricky Dicky through St Ronnie to GWB and now Trump, the GOP mantra that morality is for suckers seems to have paid-off handsomely.

So much for the party of Evangelicals.

#4 Comment By CB On February 6, 2019 @ 10:13 am

Stone met his match in Mueller? How about an article on the real crook in that pairing, Herr Mueller himself? You know, the Deep State fixer dirtier than J. Edgar Hoover himself (though as far as we know, without the dress).

Mueller covered for Whitey Bulger’s murders while letting innocent men rot in jail. He indicted Curt Weldon and Ted Stevens, just before elections, on bogus charges. He helped cover up the big players in the BCCI and HSBC scandals. He covered up all the FBI’s failures that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. He spent years going after the wrong guy in the Anthrax case. He failed in investigate the government gun running of Fast and Furious or the IRS’s targeting of conservatives.

Mueller took his current gig despite the obvious conflicts of his own Russian involvements and having been rejected as FBI director by Trump. His role was to charge Trump with crimes the Clintons had committed, thus distracting from the Clintons’s guilt. Mueller staffed his team with Clinton cronies, including a lawyer who represented Hillary personally. He obtained FISA warrants by concealing the Clinton Campaign’s funding of the Steele “dossier” and used them to spy on Hillary’s opponent in the 2016 presidential campaign. He indicted General Flynn despite FBI agents’ belief Flynn was honest, and apparently doctored the 302s months later (it’s a separate scandal that the FBI still relies on 302s–i.e., it’s agents notes–and doesn’t record interviews, when we know that fake 302s were created in the TWA 800 case for interviews that never happened).

His charges against Stone are ludicrous (Stone said a witness should “do his Frankie Pentangeli,” when the witness is a comedian and impressionist quoted by the NY Times as saying he would be doing impressions during his congressional testimony) and have nothing to do with “Russian Collusion” except of course that Steele allegedly used Russian contacts as a source of bogus Trump dirt. And now, in his latest outrage, Mueller staged a SWAT raid with more agents than the alleged Bin Laden raid and had a CNN producer (a former Comey associate at the FBI) on scene to film the production.

Crime after crime for Mueller, and your take is that Stone skirts the line?

And by the way, Stone’s book on the JFK assassination is great. Read it and you’ll learn something. LBJ’s crony Billy Sol Estes fingered Johnson for half a dozen murders, including Kennedy’s. Game of Thrones!

#5 Comment By M Segreto On February 6, 2019 @ 10:55 am

All political enemies have met their match, now that the ruling class has the power and authority to “investigate” targets at will, as far back as there are records to read and listen to.

Finding a crime shouldn’t be this hard, and I think Mueller is helping to streamline the “process” by perfecting the technique. Yes, process crimes, the prospect of personal bankruptcy, threats against one’s family, and all the rest are effectively and efficiently silencing many and destroying others as planned.

Mueller and the Left are breaking new ground and reminding Americans who is in charge.

#6 Comment By JDSKULL On February 6, 2019 @ 1:46 pm

Please state just what “hook” Mr Stone has to spit? Threats about process “crimes” only work on cowards to scared to stand up and face them. You used lots of words in your story to describe Mr Stone but coward wasn’t one of them.

#7 Comment By polistra On February 7, 2019 @ 3:21 am

An amazing article, clarifying several mysteries that I’d always wondered about.

School courses on history and government should be covering these FACTS instead of the weird fictional nonsense about “laws” and “constitutions” and “elections”.

Slimy fixers like Roger Stone and Dick Morris determine everything. They select the candidates and provide all the “information” available to “voters”.

#8 Comment By NICK PACK On February 7, 2019 @ 7:52 am

Who knew Lavrentiy Beria wrote for the likeof Mueller, ” The enemies of the Soviet state calculate that the heavy loss we have borne will lead to disorder and confusion in our ranks. But their expectations are in vain: bitter disillusionment awaits them. He who is not blind sees that our party, during its difficult days, is closing its ranks still more closely, that it is united and unshakable.” Oh, for the days when the deep state will becodified and all the stones will be crushed to gravel for all to walk on.

#9 Comment By Tony D. On February 8, 2019 @ 7:45 pm

My hunch is, it’s the other way around; Mueller has “met his match” in Mr. Stone. we shall see.

#10 Comment By SteveM On February 9, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

BTW, here’s a Tucker Carlson review, (with video) of a battalion of Law Enforcement Goons assaulting the residence of 66 year old man charged with lying to Congress:

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Ably documented by the Deep State Fake News media agent of choice, CNN

#11 Comment By JeffK On February 9, 2019 @ 1:36 pm

@JDSKULL says:
February 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm

“Please state just what “hook” Mr Stone has to spit? Threats about process “crimes” only work on cowards to scared to stand up and face them. You used lots of words in your story to describe Mr Stone but coward wasn’t one of them.”

I don’t know if Stone is a coward or not. But I am more than willing to bet he will cooperate with Mueller in order to not spend the rest of his life in jail.

Per the article below: “Roger Stone said Sunday he would be willing to testify to Robert Mueller regarding potential crimes by members of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and that he would speak with the special counsel about his conversations with the president. “.

Mueller has all of the documentation he needs to seriously harm Stone. Roger Stone endeavors to ultimately benefit Roger Stone. I seriously doubt he will take the fall for anybody with the last name Trump. Not Don Sr, Don Jr, Erik, nor Ivanka.

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