The TPM Interview: Roger Stone May Be Off The Campaign, But He Still Has Trump’s Ear

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It’s been nearly a month since longtime Republican operative Roger Stone resigned from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (or was fired, to hear Trump tell it.) But the two old friends haven’t stopped talking politics.

“We’re on cordial terms. We talk. I have not signed on with any super PAC so I have no prohibition,” Stone told TPM in a phone interview. “Trump has been my friend for 35 years. He’s still my friend.”

Stone may be on the outside of the real estate mogul’s campaign now, but he’s still one of its most visible and vocal surrogates. In recent weeks, cable news bookers and newspaper reporters (as well as TPM) have turned to Stone to unpack the allure of Trump’s candidacy, since the former Nixon operative spent so much time inside TrumpWorld and is now free of the constraints of the campaign.

Well, mostly free. Stone told TPM that he signed a confidentiality agreement preventing him from going into detail about the campaign’s internal deliberations.

TPM caught up with Stone, who said he was running out for a coffee after a night without any sleep, Tuesday morning.

“I have a book coming out on the Clintons and the manuscript had to be in at 9 o’ clock this morning so I was up all night,” he said. “But it’s in.”

Below is a transcript of the wide-ranging conversation, which touches on everything from the rising tide of white supremacist support for Trump to Stone’s own U.S. Senate aspirations, that has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

TPM: So you and the Trump campaign parted ways under disputed circumstances. Why do you still think he’s the best candidate to lead the nation into whatever comes next?

Roger Stone: Not to belabor this point because it’s old news, but Politico and The New York Times each had three separate confirmations that I resigned, meaning people I showed those resignation letters to and told them what time I would send it.

But I think the entire system is broken. I worked as a lobbyist. I worked as a Senate staffer. I worked as a House staffer. I’ve seen American government up close. I’ve seen them making sausage. It’s not pretty. Everything is for sale. The special interests and the lobbyists and the billionaires and the super PACs control everything. Anything in Washington can be bought for the right amount of money. In my view, Trump has the financial independence and the boldness to challenge the entire system. When he says that 100 million dollars that Jeb [Bush] has raised has strings on it, he’s absolutely right.

Before you and the campaign separated, there were some reports floating around of a civil war going on in the ranks over there. Was your experience with the campaign that it could be a little chaotic or was everyone working together pretty cohesively?

I think that stuff is really overblown. I think politics is about ideas, issues. My main interest was in taking the issue agenda that is outlined in Trump’s 2011 book, which has now just been republished last Monday in paperback form, it’s called “Time To Get Tough,” and laying it out through the campaign. Those who say he has no plan haven’t read his books. They haven’t read his op-eds. They haven’t read some of his speeches. My disagreements were largely pertaining to, as I said at the time, distraction. I think the voters want to see Trump take on China, and the Iran deal, and Mexico. They’re not interested in a food fight with [Fox News anchor] Megyn Kelly.

On that subject, who would you say won that whole post-GOP-debate war, Trump or Fox News?

I’m not gonna speculate on that. I just think it’s a sideshow. It’s a distraction. It’s meaningless. The country’s going down the toilet. We are on the verge of approving an Iranian nuclear deal that could end up with the world in a Holocaust, and we’re gonna argue about what’s politically correct? It makes no sense to me.

I mean Fox News has a supreme position as the gold standard in terms of communications with the very voters that Trump cares about. In other words, the audience for Fox is not the same as the audience for CNN. The Fox audience is the most important audience. I think they’re reaching eight out of 10 Republican primary voters. Trump and Fox both won when 24 million people tuned into the debate.

What’s Trump’s relationship with Roger Ailes like?

I couldn’t comment on that. Remember, I have a confidentiality agreement so I’m not gonna get too deep into deliberations or considerations when I was there. I gotta be a little careful.

Do you think that with the campaign infrastructure that Trump has at this present moment — that’s without you as an adviser, without the aid of Sam Nunberg, who had apparently written up policy papers for the campaign — he can still go all the way?

Sure. I think they’re expanding. Michael Glassner, who’s their political director, he’s a very, very capable guy. He’s got an excellent Rolodex, he’s very, very well known and well liked within the party because of his long association with Sen. Bob Dole. He unfairly gets pegged as a Sarah Palin guy. That’s really not accurate. He’s really a Dole guy. I think he’s really first rate. The people that Trump has in South Carolina and Iowa are first rate. They know what they’re doing. They’re experienced organizers. If they have any problems, they have more volunteers than they’ve ever counted on. I don’t know the people in New Hampshire so I’m not making any judgment one way or another. I do know the people in the other states and they’re excellent.

I read that they’re staffing up. So this is not about — politics isn’t about logistics, it’s about ideas. Trump has already presented some provocative ideas that have allowed him to dominate the entire debate. I’m confident he’s gonna continue to do so.

On that note, a lot of self-described white nationalists, or people who’ve been labelled white supremacists, have been voicing their support for Trump and his immigration platform in particular. What do you make of that?

I would disavow that support. Trump is not a racist. He’s certainly not a white supremacist. If those people choose to support him that doesn’t mean that he supports them.

There’s a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll out today that says nearly half of Republican caucusgoers in Iowa who support Trump think that Obama was born outside of the U.S. Trump led the way in the last election cycle in questioning the President’s birth certificate. Do you think that Trump genuinely believes that Obama is foreign born?

I think he’s not sure. I think he’s not sure.

When was the last time you talked to Trump?

We’re on cordial terms. We talk. I have not signed on with any super PAC so i have no prohibition. Trump has been my friend for 35 years. He’s still my friend. He went to my wedding when I got married. I went to two out of three of his weddings. I was at both his parents’ funerals and wakes, his brother-in-law’s wake. His sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, the federal judge in New Jersey, is one of my heroes. A great woman. We talk on a semi-regular basis and it’s cordial. But I have no formal — I resigned any formal role. We just talk politics.

Do you guys meet up in person? Do you talk on the phone? Email back and forth? What’s your relationship like now?

We talk on the phone from time to time. He’s not an email guy, as you probably know. But I stress I have no formal role. We’re just friends. We’re just friends and I’m his supporter.

You recently tweeted “When will Trump unleash his secret weapon, Melania Trump?” His campaign had said she’d make an appearance on the trail by the end of August. I don’t think she’s been out there with him yet. Why do you think she’s been absent? How is she Trump’s secret weapon?

She is an extraordinary asset. First of all she’s a gracious, charming, highly educated, very articulate individual. Some people have the misnomer that because she was a supermodel that maybe she’s not all the things she is. She’s incredible. She speaks four languages. She’s a great mother. She would be the most glamorous first lady since Jackie Kennedy. They’re a stunning, glamorous couple for the television age. This is one of Trump’s great assets. He has size. I don’t mean physical size, I just mean presence. He’s like a Ronald Reagan or a Jack Kennedy in that sense. He’s larger than life. He fills a room. That’s why he draws these enormous crowds. All these other candidates are merely mortals, career politicians.

In the time that you’ve spent with them, is there any indication that there are particular issues that Melania is really big on and wants to draw attention to?

I don’t know. I’m sure that that’s something that will evolve.

Back in May you said you were forming an exploratory committee to maybe run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat. Is that still in the cards for you?

The filing deadline is in July of next year. So I’ll decided in July of next year. The Libertarian Party in Florida is a permanent party. They have a ballot position. There is a candidate who is talking about running who believes in eugenics. So a number of the party leaders who are very responsible people don’t want him to be a nominee. Under the rules there’s no way, because he registered with the party, there’s no way to keep him off the primary ballot. So a lot of the party leaders have asked me to run and I’ll consider it next year.

I have, as I said, this book coming out on the Clintons Oct. 13. I have a book coming out on the Bushes Jan. 1 which is entitled “Jeb And The Bush Crime Family.” So I am equally critical of the Bushes and the Clintons and the Senate race could be a very good forum to develop those issues, if that’s the choice we’re faced with. Obviously I’m hopeful we’ll have a choice of Trump and some Democrat. But we don’t know that yet.

What else would be in a Roger Stone platform if you were to run for office?

Look, I’m a Libertarian. I disagree with Trump and the national Republicans on a number of issues. I’m against endless war. I’m against the erosion of our civil liberties. I’m against the Iran deal, obviously. I favored the reclassification of marijuana from a class I drug to a class III. In other words, right now the federal government classifies marijuana with heroin and cocaine, which is ridiculous. At a minimum marijuana should be decriminalized. At a maximum it should be legalized and taxed. I support gay marriage, although now I think that issue is pretty much settled.

Not if that one clerk in Kentucky has her way.

That’s unbelievable. Just unbelievable. But i’m not running yet so I’m not sure my views are all that important. I’ll decide next year.

What do you think Trump’s first act in office if he were elected President would be? Would he change the name of Denali back to Mt. McKinley?

I don’t think so. I don’t know. I think he would probably kill Obamacare as his first act. He’s clearly written and said it’s a disaster.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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