Mr Stone’s political career took off when he was invited into the Nixon administration in his early twenties and it’s clear that the President was a considerable inspiration and mentor to the young Roger Stone who has the likeness of Richard Nixon tattooed on his back. Although he likes to say he’s “the only guy you’ll meet with a Dick on the front and the back”, Mr Stone is proud of Nixon’s achievements, albeit blemished by his major faults. After Nixon Mr Stone worked on many campaigns as strategist and political consultant, from Reagan to his most recent success story, President Trump. Although an abbreviated interview it was nevertheless interesting, and hopefully will be to readers.
For any of you who haven’t seen the Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone”, I’d recommend it for the insight into political strategy, campaigning and a brief overview of his life. The most significant line in the whole show was when he reflected “Everything I’ve ever worked for is to propel ideas”, whether that’s in government or in wider society. His old business partner Paul Manafort, who briefly served in the Trump campaign team, said the current administration was a “Trump presidency, Stone philosophy”.
So I asked him – what ideas are you propelling, what is your philosophy? “I’m a libertarian conservative” and it was this philosophy that “attracted me to Trump”. Stone is for the legalisation of marijuana whereas Trump “is for states’ rights”; they are both non-interventionists but Stone disagrees with Trumps recent “decision, I believe, to commit 50,000 more troops” to Afghanistan which would be “our greatest, largest single deployment”. “He is a sceptic of the deep state and intelligence agencies whose self-interest in what’s going on today is extraordinary”. In other words, he really doesn’t disagree with Trump on much and where he does it seems to be on degree rather than principle.
As was to become quite the theme of our short exchange, Mr Stone wandered off onto what he wished to talk about. Given his long history in campaign strategy and media manipulation, this was almost certainly intentional.
“Let’s look at this just for a second, the men that Donald Trump appointed to head the FBI and the CIA are opposed to the release of memo that not only will exonerate Trump in the matter of Russian collusion but will expose illegal and unconstitutional activities by the CIA and the FBI in the creation of this probe.” It’s clear this is something Stone is concerned about, or at least wants to get the public talking about, as in America he is constantly defending Trump’s record against the accusations of having links with Russia. His fascination with secret memos and his praise of whistle-blowers speaks to the wider suspicion he has of intelligence agencies.
Another thing that struck me in the documentary were the “Stone’s rules” which kept cropping up. The one I thought particularly interesting related to his line of work was “You must do everything to win”. Everything? As in everything within the parameters of a code of ethics or morality? Or just within the parameters of the law?
“The perimeter of the law”. A pause. “Look, they say, “well Roger Stone’s a dirty trickster””.
“Many times,” I add.
“Look, one man’s dirty trick is a civil participation. One man’s dirty trickster is another man’s freedom fighter. You’d be very hard pressed to point to one thing that I have ever done in my career that was not only consistent with what my contemporaries were doing but within the confines of the law.”
“So your morality is based on the context then?”
“Well my morality is based on the law. I do anything legal to get my candidates elected.”
Personally, I think having such a wishy-washy morality is highly unprincipled and undignified. But I can see why potential candidates would want to have a man as capable and as determined as Mr Stone on their side; he offers an unmatched expertise and willingness.
Again, he wandered off topic to give an example he obviously wants us to report: his recent adventure to the Ecuadorian embassy which his lawyer “mentioned” was around the corner. He told me how he dropped off his card to a bewildered guard outside to pass on to the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. “Yeah, I was punking the fake-news British media. Why? Because I think Julian Assange is a journalist”, he believes “Wikileaks is a news organisation” with more factual credibility than the Washington Post and New York Times.
“Now”, he begins, gathering us in for some more Stone analysis, despite the fact that American intelligence agencies say Assange is linked with Russia, “Let me give you a hint, anytime the intelligence agencies say something with a “high level of confidence” means they don’t know s**t.” He continued in the same tone, railing against the attempts to unhinge Wikileaks and its founder and against a lawsuit charging him and Trump for helping the Russians hack the Democratic National Committee (DNC), all of which he says is “untrue and therefore completely unproveable…I’m not even sure the DNC was really hacked.”
It seems to me that to run political campaigns as he has you have to know something of the human psyche. Given another one of his rules is “Hate is a stronger motivator than love”, I asked him if he is fundamentally pessimistic about people and society.
“No I am fundamentally realistic about them. We vote on an emotional basis – I like her, I don’t like her…I like the way he sounds, I like the way she looks, I like the way she comes across.”
“So you try and exploit that as a campaign strategist?”
“I think not to do so would be malpractice…It’s like, in a campaign people say why don’t you stick to the issues, well the main reason you don’t go out with a completely white paper issue-based campaign is because its boring…the only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring. You have an obligation to entertain the voters and educate them to your point of view.”
Mr Stone is a self-proclaimed “agent provocateur”, what critics have called a “dirty trickster” and, like Trump, is very aware of how media operates. He came with an arsenal of cheeky one-liners and a checklist of topics he wanted to raise which popped up in his interview and Union appearances and no doubt will be greeting the students of other universities he’s gracing on his tour de force of the UK. Politics aside he came across as a pleasant and humorous chap with plenty to say and an ability to say it well.