Over the last couple days The Washington Post has published two stories touching on defrocked and disgraced Roger Ailes’ role advising Donald Trump. In one he is part of a group counseling Trump toward more moderate, less sharp-edged stands versus another group led by early Trump endorser, Sen. Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon who are pressing Trump to stick to his hardline positions. In the second, he is one of a group of advisors meeting with Trump regularly to discuss debate strategy. At various points, Ailes is grouped with Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie or in other cases with those two plus Laura Ingraham. For a host of reasons, which I’ll explain below, I think everyone is understating Ailes’ role as perhaps the key advisor on Trump’s campaign as we move into the fall.
A minor reason for thinking this is that Ailes is obviously newly freed up by not having the job he had for 20 years at Fox news. This likely explains some of the shift in Trump’s strategy and public pronouncements. After all, Giuliani and Christie have been hovering around Trump for months. Trump’s new form of concern trolling labelled as ‘racial outreach’ is also extremely Ailesian.
Here’s the big reason. Giuliani and Christie are not media or message strategists. Their personal inclinations are toward confrontation, which seems to be the opposite of what this ‘moderate’ (crazy to call it ‘moderate’, but whatever) is pressing Trump to do. But here’s the key. Whatever else you may think of him, Ailes is one of the greatest media and message strategists of his generation. There’s all of his work in politics prior to launching Fox News. But Fox News is his creation. And you can see from his creation, how he built an alternative partisan universe based on an acute understanding American conservatism and the GOP, that he is truly a master at understanding how to intuit, build and cultivate themes which have shaped American conservatism over the last decade. There is simply no way that when Giuliani, Christie and Ailes or Giuliani, Ingraham and Ailes get together to talk about message and strategy that Ailes isn’t the dominant player. He would be the dominant influencer with Trump as well as with any of the three others.
Clearly the influence isn’t total since Trump has spent the last few days counter-pivoting in the opposite direction after essentially embracing the Rubio/Jeb agenda he railed against during the primaries. But that’s Trump; he’s a clown. And it’s really too late to manage some shift to the center even if you had a candidate with the insight and ability to attempt it. But I see no reason to ignore what seems obvious: If Ailes is one of a small group of advisors counseling Trump, if he sits down with him weekly and talks on the phone something like daily, there’s no way he isn’t the dominant voice Trump is listening to.