‘I’m the ultimate Trump loyalist,” says Roger Stone, the longtime friend and closest political advisor who departed the billionaire real-estate mogul’s presidential campaign this weekend in shocking and seemingly acrimonious fashion. “Those of us who are Trump loyalists have a hashtag that we use on Twitter — #yuge. Y-U-G-E. Those who use it are the true Trump loyalists.”
On Saturday, Trump’s campaign issued a statement saying it had fired Stone because “Roger wanted to use the campaign for his own personal publicity.” Stone responded by showing the media his resignation letter, which declared that “current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights” had become a distraction from the campaign’s message.
It’s hard to overstate just how close Trump and Stone have been over the years. Their professional and personal relationship goes back more than three decades. Trump without Stone is akin to George W. Bush without Karl Rove or Barack Obama without David Axelrod. Though Trump has derided Stone to reporters in the past — “Roger is a stone-cold loser,” he told The New Yorker in 2008, “he always tries taking credit for things he never did” — the two men have always made up after such occasional spats, and a permanent split would be stunning.
“It takes a certain kind of consultant who could work for a candidate like Donald Trump and it takes a certain kind of candidate to hire a consultant like Roger Stone,” says Chris Barron, a Washington-based political consultant who has worked with Stone in the past. “Trump may have lost the only consultant in the business who could have done the job he needs done for him.”
Barron describes Stone as “larger than life, incredibly smart, and an outside-of-the-box operator” and suggests that the remaining Trump staffers are “yes men” who would rather tell the candidate what he wants to hear than what he needs to hear.
Trump and Stone first met in 1979, when Stone was working for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in New York state. “I was introduced to Trump by Roy Cohn, the legendary attorney,” he says. Cohn had represented both Donald Trump and Trump’s father, Fred Trump, also a successful developer.
“Fred Trump was one of the greatest men I ever met — and they were both strong Reagan supporters,” Stone says. “Fred Trump had been a major Goldwater backer and financier. [Donald Trump] was very helpful to Reagan, in terms of helping us secure office space, telephones, logistics. He allowed us to use his airplane to fly our petitions to Albany in order to file on time to get [Reagan’s name] on the ballot.”
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Shortly after the two first met, Stone opened a lobbying practice, and Trump became one of his first clients. Stone represented Trump and his companies in currency transaction disputes pertaining to the mogul’s casinos and Federal Aviation Administration complaints about the height of his buildings.
In 1988, Stone wanted Trump to run for president and arranged for him to give a speech at the Portsmouth, N.H., Chamber of Commerce, which garnered enormous media coverage. Stone says some of his friends in the state organized a short-lived “Draft Trump” movement, but within a few weeks, Trump had determined he would forgo a run to focus on his business career.
‘I have nothing bad to say about Donald Trump. I’ve wanted him to be president since 1988. I just want to see him back on track.’
Twelve years later, when Trump launched a presidential exploratory committee, Stone served as its chairman. He says Ross Perot and then-governor Jesse Ventura both urged Trump to run for the Reform-party nomination that year. Perot’s performance in 1996 had been strong enough to get the party to qualify for federal matching funds, a fairly significant advantage for a third-party candidate. Trump had been “unimpressed” with both George W. Bush and Al Gore, and won the straw poll at the Reform party’s National Convention (a gathering separate from the nominating convention). But again, he ultimately declined to run.
“Three years ago, I wanted him to run for president; I thought the timing was right,” Stone says. “He did look at it seriously; he looked at both the Republican nomination and he took a quick look at the possibility of running as a third-party candidate.” He says Trump has subsequently expressed regret for his endorsement of Mitt Romney, characterizing the former Massachusetts governor as “a guy who chokes before the big putt.”
Stone remains effusive about Trump, and expresses frustration that in recent days the campaign has deviated from what fueled its rise in the polls.
“I think the Trump messaging is what’s driven him to an unprecedented lead,” he says. “He’s already made history in this race. Now the question is to stay on track, stay on those messages. I don’t agree with getting into a cul-de-sac, in getting into arguments about what is politically correct.”
Stone sees Trump’s strength as his willingness to speak bluntly and passionately about a series of national problems, from an awful deal with Iran and a limping economy to poor health care for military veterans and Republican support for trade-promotion authority.
#related#“The country is going down the toilet!” Stone says. “I’m really hopeful that his campaign will go back to those core issues that got him where he is today. If my going rogue is what lays out that path, so be it.”
Though Stone claims three presidential campaigns — he won’t identify them, saying only “you can figure it out, the non-establishment campaigns” — have reached out to him since he left Trump’s operation, he says he’s not willing to work for a candidate other than Trump this cycle, and dismisses the “career politicians” dominating the field.
His personal admiration for Trump remains undamaged despite his decision to leave the campaign.
“I attended both of his parents’ funerals, two of his three weddings; his sister Mary Ann Trump Barry is someone who’s a friend and someone I admire very much, a very accomplished federal judge,” he says. “I have nothing bad to say about Donald Trump. I’ve wanted him to be president since 1988. I just want to see him back on track.”
— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.