Roger and me: A Saturday in the Stone Zone

Good morning Austin:

I had lunch with Roger Stone on Saturday.

He was in Austin promoting his new book, The Clintons’ War on Women, the basic premise of which is, as Stone puts it, “Bill Clinton is a Bill Cosby-like sexual predator,” and Hillary Clinton is his witting accomplice.

I had asked Stone ahead of time where he wanted to eat. He said either barbecue or Tex Mex.

I chose barbecue and asked whether he wanted a truck or bricks and mortar.

He chose the latter, and I suggested Freedmen’s near UT.

We met there. It was cold and wet, so the outdoor seating wasn’t really an option. All that was open were seats at the bar. We took them. They were out of the ribs. Oh well. We both had brisket and shared beans and potato salad. Stone, who lives in South Florida, said he was very pleased, that it was just what he wanted.

For 90 minutes, we talked 2016 politics and I can’t think of anyone better to do that with.

On Friday, he spoke at the 30th Biennial State Convention of the Texas Federation of Republican Women,  in Lubbock, where he sold a couple of hundred books, and a bunch of copies, of his previous book, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.

For the women in Lubbock, it was a chance to get psyched for the coming campaign, and do some early Christmas shopping.

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For those who don’t know Stone, here is a quick introductory video fromStone’s website – the Stone Zone.

Stone is a man of intrigue and contradictions.

Stone’s introductory line this year – he uses it in his book and in his book talks – is, “I spent years in the corroded rectum of the two-party system.”

But, the arresting coarseness of that image aside, he is also both satin smooth and disarmingly direct.

He describes himself, in his book and in conversation, as a “libertine” and a “bit of a dandy.”

He has a tattoo of Nixon’s head on his back.

 

 

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He is now a registered Libertarian in Florida, and his capacity for bipartisan mischief is suggested by his role as an adviser to Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Since the death of the Hollywood designer, Mr. Blackwell, he has assumed the mantle of preparing an annual Best and Worst Dressed List.

For example from the Worst List:

Hillary Rodham Clinton – The former Secretary of State and 2016 hopeful has no taste in clothing and no idea whatsoever what she looks good in. Take the coat she wore to the Nixon Cox-Castimitidis wedding. She’s changed “looks” more than we have. Darker colors would minimize her bulk, heavy legs and bizarrely thick ankles. Now, this may seem overly nasty and we would agree, except she deserves it. Meow.

And, fom Sridhar Pappu in The New York Times in August.

“Rand Paul could walk down the street in Manhattan and nobody would know who he was,” Mr. Stone said. “He looks like a guy who went to the gym, jumped in the shower really quick and then ran to the meeting. He looks unkempt. Cowboy boots from Kentucky. O.K., whatever. But you can’t dress like a college student. Someone should get the guy a decent haircut and a good suit.”

Stone is the voice of reason in Trump’s head – his top adviser in his presidential campaign until August, when he was either fired or quit after Trump went on his crude – and Stone thought self-defeating – tirade against Fox’s Megyn Kelly.

But, such is the nature of their very long and tumultuous Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor, married-divorced-married relationship (with an occasional flash of Liz and Dick’s George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), we can expect him to play the role of a Karl Rove or David Axelrod, at least intermittently, in a Trump White House.

For example, from the terrific June 2008 Jeffrey Toobin profile of Stone in the New Yorker:

Stone worked for Donald Trump as an occasional lobbyist and as an adviser when Trump considered running for President in 2000. “Roger is a stone-cold loser,” Trump told me. “He always tries taking credit for things he never did.” Like Nixon, Stone is also a great hater-of, among others, the Clintons, Karl Rove, and Spitzer.

Elliot Spitzer was among Stone’s most famous scalps – a complicated business that ended with the revelation that the New York governor was having sex with high-priced prostitutes. He resigned.

Stone had a number of grievances against Spitzer, but apparently what most offended him was the revelation (via one of the prostitutes and delivered by Stone to the FBI) of Spitzer’s habit of keeping his calf-length black socks on during sex.

Stone and Trump still talk regularly and he talks Trump up at every opportunity.

There is a rich literature around Stone. A college course could be built around a close reading of Stone profiles.

A Stephanie Mansfield profile in the Washington Post in 1986, The Rise and Gall of Roger Stone, begins:

He has a dog named Milhous, a wife named Bitsey, a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and a Jaguar.

Later:

He names his heroes as (Roy) Cohn, Nixon and the Duke of Windsor — all outcasts in one form or another.

Among the best was a Nov. 5, 2007 profile in The Weekly Standard by Matt Labash.  Roger Stone, Political Animal.

Here are a few excerpts:

Being a skilled confidence man is both a blessing and a curse. If you truly excel at the long con, raising it to a form of art, marks will never know they’ve been taken. But if you become renowned for such artistry, when it is synonymous with your very name, people never believe you’re off the grift, even when you’re playing straight.

Such is the life of Roger Stone, political operative, Nixon-era dirty trickster, professional lord of mischief. It’s hard to assume he’s not up to something, because he always is. He once said of himself, “If it rains, it was Stone.”

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Naïfs might say he’s a cancer on the body politic, everything that is wrong with today’s system. But maybe he is just its purest distillation: Politics is war, and he is one of its fiercest warriors, with the battle scars to prove it.

The first time I laid eyes on Roger Stone he was standing poolside at a press conference on the roof of the Hotel L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. With a horseshoe pinkie ring refracting rays from the California sun and a gangster chalk-stripe suit that looked like it had been exhumed from the crypt of Frank Costello, Stone was there to help his friend and longtime client Donald Trump explore a Reform party presidential candidacy in 2000.

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Actually, it was more complicated than that. After having recruited Pat Buchanan to seek the nod (“You have to beat somebody,” Stone says), he pushed Trump into the race. Trump relentlessly attacked Buchanan as having “a love affair with Adolf Hitler,” but ended up folding. A weakened Buchanan went on to help the Reform party implode, and Republicans suffered no real third-party threat, as they had in 1992, thus helping Stone accomplish his objective. If, in fact, that was his objective. These things are often hard to keep track of with Roger Stone.

Trump’s short-lived campaign provided lots of memorable Stone moments. There was the scene on the roof, where Stone, a dandy by disposition who boasts of having not bought off-the-rack since he was 17–he’s now 56–taught reporters how to achieve perfect double-dimples underneath their tie knots, while providing them hand sanitizers should they want to shake hands with the germophobe Trump. Then there were the hardball negotiations he drove backstage at the Tonight Show, where he promised access to the dressing room, but only if we refrained from “making fun of Mr. Trump’s hair” in print.

But the moment that has most stuck with me came after reporters had just watched Trump dispense invaluable life tips at a Tony Robbins seminar (“Get even. When somebody screws you, screw ’em back–but a lot harder”). Stone mounted the bus, which in Trumpian fashion was named “A Touch of Class,” and announced, “I’m here. Who needs to be spun?”

It was a throwaway line, not even one of the serially quotable Stone’s best, but the naked cynicism at the heart of it might be why his fans in the press corps over the years have called him things like “a state of the art sleaze-ball,” “an extreme rightwing sleazeball,” and the “boastful black prince of Republican sleaze” (the sleaze theme is popular). Color me contrarian, but I will say something I don’t believe another Washington reporter has ever admitted publicly: I like Roger Stone.

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“Politics with me isn’t -theater,” he admits. “It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake.”

He has dabbled in at least eight presidential campaigns, everything from working for Nixon’s Committee To Reelect the President (CREEP) in 1972, to helping stage the infamous 2000 Brooks Brothers Riot in Miami, where angry Republicans in loud madras shorts and pinstriped suits helped shut down the Miami recount. (Stone was directing traffic by walkie-talkie from a nearby van.)

He made his bones as a principal in the Reagan-era lobbying firm Black, Manafort & Stone. Stone’s bread is now primarily buttered by strategizing for corporate clients, everything from casino interests to the sugar industry, but his love of the action insures that he is usually waging at least one exotic war on the political periphery.

It’s a bit nerve-racking figuring how to properly dress for a Stone engagement. His long-time tailor is Alan Flusser, author of the sartorial bible Style and the Man, and one of Flusser’s associates tells me Stone knows enough to work there. Sitting across from him is a bit like sitting across from Mr. Blackwell: Suppose you accidentally went with a single-vent jacket rather than side vents, which Stone finds unthinkable (“I’m not a heathen”), or if you wore trendy flat-front suit trousers instead of ones with properly-draped pleats (“Pants today are like a little church in the valley–no ballroom”).

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I read once that he has 300 solid-silver wedding ties. He’s says it’s an exaggeration–he only has about 100. But to give an idea of his obsessiveness, he owns so many suits that there are 100 in storage alone. His closets are meticulously ordered–even his jeans are organized “by jeaniness.”

 

Roger Stone at Brave New Books in Austin

Roger Stone at Brave New Books in Austin

 

On Alex Jones’s radio show Monday, the host seemed pleasantly nonplussed when Stone suggested he would hook Jones up with Trump as a guest on his show because he thought they would hit it off.

After lunch with Stone, I moved the junk in the passenger seat of my 2008 Accord into the trunk and gave him a ride back to the Hyatt Place.

I would see him a few hours later at his book talk and signing with co-author Robert Morrow, at Brave New Books, an appropriately subterranean bookstore on Guadalupe near the university, where far left meets far right in a spirit of underground bonhomie.

 

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Stone promised me an eclectic crowd.

Self-assessing, I would rate myself in the middle or high middle in terms of deportment. Several of us had our hair in ponytails.

 

An Austin Chronicle ad.

An Austin Chronicle ad

John Bush is the new owner of Brave New Books, taking over for founder Harlan Dietrich, who was also in attendance for Saturday night’s event, which drew about 40 people.

Bush, who founded a Civil Liberties Union chapter during this time at Texas State University, is a former executive director of Texans for Accountable Government. He now considers himself  more of an anarchist and less focused on elective politics.

But, in opening the program Saturday, he expressed satisfaction that Travis County voters had rejected a bond for a new courthouse, and especially that voters in San Marcos had approved by a large margin a measure to stop fluoridation of their water.

Here is Stone’s presentation, which was followed by a Q-and-A, which is not on the video.

And here, from Media Matters for America, is a dossier on Stone and Morrow and why you should pay them no heed – indeed, turn in revulsion and run.

MMA was founded by David Brock, who also created American Bridge, which seeks to truth-squad Republican candidates, and Correct the Record,  which is more narrowly focused on defending Hillary Clinton from attacks as she runs for president.

Brock, of course, is atoning for his own Stone-like sins.

As Stone and Morrow write in their book:

Ironically, the first journalist to report extensively on the Clintons’ wrongdoings was David Brock of the American Spectator. Brock interviewed Clinton’s Arkansas State Police bodyguards who talked about Clinton’s personal cocaine use, chronic infidelity, sexual assaults, and involvement with drug trafficking. The American Spectator stories had a profound impact. Today, Brock is a Clinton toady sucking compensation from at least three pro-Clinton front organizations. Today, Brock claims his American Spectator stories exposing Bill Clinton were false. He’s lying.

Brock is engaging company, highly intelligent, and, like me, a bit of a dandy. He sported a monocle, cape, and gold-headed walking sick, an affectation known only to the National Review’s Richard Brookhiser in the past three decades. Brock let the rumor spread he was on heroin when heroin was chic. He’s lying.

At Brave New Books, Stone referred to Brock as “that twisted little freak.”

Robert Morrow and Roger Stone at Brave New Books

Robert Morrow and Roger Stone at Brave New Books

Stone finished his presentation with a rhetorical flourish – “Bill and Hillary are the penicillin-resistant syphilis of the American body politic” – and then answered questions.

He was asked how it is possible that all the material in his book is true – and much of it previously out there – and yet the Clintons are still standing, even thriving.

Stone said it’s been a generation since Bill Clinton was first elected president, and much of what they detail in the book is lost to gauzy memory.

“Nothing is old news if people haven’t heard it before,” he said. “To them it’s news.”

“Why hasn’t anyone used this stuff?” Stone was asked.

Stone said “Their opponents are compromised. The two parties are in it together.”

He was asked if any of the leading Republican contenders, “have the, pun not intended, stones to make an issue of this.”

“There is one that does,” Stone said. “Trump as you can already see. He’s fearless. He’ll say anything.”

Marco Rubio?

“Not a chance. He’s in the club, totally in the club.”

“Ted Cruz? Maybe. Maybe.”

Back to Trump:  “Believe me, Donald Trump has the political establishment pissing their pants. He is completely uncontrollable.”

Now, about Morrow, who is after all a local boy.

In introducing Stone, he said of himself, “I tell the truth about everybody. I tell the good and bad. I generally focus on the bad because I’m a muckraker. I rake up the muck.”

From Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush, by James Moore and Jason Stanford in 2011:

The 47-year-old Morrow is not your standard crackpot. He is a millionaire Princeton graduate who also holds an MBA from the University of Texas. Nonetheless, he has been a guest on the radio show of Alex Jones, a man who sometimes appears to believe day and night are conspiracies cooked up by the sun and earth. Morrow, like Jones, appears to believe President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary had opponents murdered in Arkansas, George H. W. Bush was a cocaine smuggler, and in general, nobody is up to no good, especially Rick Perry, who Morrow says is sitting on a “slut fueled tank of nitroglycerin” that will destroy his image.

Morrow attracted a lot of national attention when he ran an ad in the Austin Chronicle, which asked in large black letters, “Have you ever had sex with Rick Perry?” He was hoping to make contact with “strippers, escorts, or “young hotties” and help them publicize their encounters with the Texas governor. Morrow’s ad was presented as an effort by an organization he founded and called CASH: The Committee Against Sexual Hypocrisy.”

The governor’s office finally decided it was unable to ignore Morrow and once again his staff reached out to Ken Herman of the Austin American Statesman. Perry chief of staff Ray Sullivan sent the reporter an email that Herman included in his story about Morrow.

Here is Ken’s story.

Here is Morrow ‘s cringe-worthy confrontation with Chelsea Clinton during her recent book-signing at BookPeople in Austin.

And here is Morrow when I asked him Saturday night whether his approach – lacking any of Stone’s suavity – wasn’t counterproductive (and yes, I do cut him off in the video before he dragged Rick Perry back into things, which, at this point, seems especially uncalled for).

I think the Clinton campaign is depending on Stone’s and Morrow’s approach and reputation to inoculate them from suffering the ill-effects of The Clintons’ War on Women.

But Stone intends to raise money to make ads in which some of Clinton’s victims will tell their stories.

There will be women, different kinds of women, who will be saying that Bill Clinton sexually abused them.  Should that happen, those ads may be far harder to dismiss than the book, particularly in the new age of Cosby.

In her introduction to The Clintons’ War on Women, Kathleen Willey concludes:

In this book, you will learn that the Clintons are not the ambassadors of goodwill and progressivism you might think they are. And even though Hillary portrays herself as a champion for the rights of women and girls, she is not fighting for the best interests of women. She is the war on women. The stories of everyone who has been hurt by the Clintons deserve to be told.

I recall that Dateline NBC’s 1999 interview of Juanita Broaddrick, accusing Clinton of raping her in 1978 when he was the attorney general of Arkansas, made a powerful impression.

Somehow  Monica Lewinsky carries a residue of guilt and shame, like this slick L.A. intern somehow took advantage of an unsophisticated president of the United State from Little Rock, Ark.

From Alexandra Schwartz,  Monica Lewinsky and the Shame Game in the March 26 New Yorker:

Clinton’s escape from pointless impeachment ended up seeming like a golden boy’s feat, the stunt of a daredevil pilot who takes his plane into a nose dive only to swerve up just before hitting the ground. Not so for Lewinsky. “Overnight, I went from being a completely private person to being a publicly humiliated one worldwide,” she says.

Bill Clinton’s comeback in public esteem is remarkable

Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post  back in March.

Bill Clinton is almost certainly the most popular person in American politics. A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed that 56 percent of people have a positive view of the former president while just 26 percent hold a negative one. That makes him more popular than George W. Bush (35/39) and President Obama (44/43). It also makes him more popular than his wife; 44 percent of Americans have a positive view of Hillary Clinton while 36 percent have a negative one.

Bill Clinton’s popularity is no idle discussion. With Hillary Clinton moving inexorably toward a presidential run in 2016, how her husband will be used on the campaign trail — particularly after the disastrous results of his forays into the 2008 campaign — is a critically important question for her campaign-in-waiting.

Views on what the best role is for Bill Clinton are divided within Democratic circles.

“The campaigner in chief is always more an asset than anything,” said Jef Pollock, a New York-based Democratic pollster. “He’s good for money, he’s good for strategy, and he’s good for turnout. That’s the holy trinity of good campaigning.”

But, Dave Beattie, a Florida-based Democratic pollster, had a different view on how Bill Clinton should be used. “In a campaign, he should not be used to attack opponents, but to paint the picture of a more equitable economy that reinforces voters’ existing perception of his strength as president,” argued Beattie.

Bill Clinton as attack dog was a formula that just didn’t work when his wife ran for president seven years ago. Time and again, he got himself and his wife into trouble with impolitic remarks.

But, lost amid the overreach of impeachment, was a pretty tawdry story.

I suspect the great liability Clinton brings to his wife’s campaign is that this will all, almost certainly, be revisited in a general election campaign, with Stone’s and Morrow’s book well-thumbed if not necessarily well-regarded, and offering Republicans an opportunity to undermine the feminist pride that ought to be fundamental to her success.

It is a critique of the Clintons that one might expect from the left, though, with rare exceptions, like the late Christopher Hitchens, they closed ranks behind the Clintons against a common enemy.

 

After the first Democratic debate this year, Hillary Clinton said,  “I’ve been told to stop, and I quote, `shouting about gun violence.’ Well first of all, I’m not shouting. It’s just when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

 

It’s a well-thought-out line that brings a rise from women in the audience, and that apparently especially rankled Sanders and his campaign.

But it’s a line that bothered me. It struck me as a cheap shot.

Sanders was saying that the plague of gun violence was going to be ameliorated through compromise, not shouting at one another.

But it is also all too facile, playing a card that she can get away with in the Democratic primaries, but that could get her in trouble in a general election debate, where she could be asked why she never raised her voice publicly when her husband was so obviously taking advantage of other women.

Stone also previewed his next book at Brave New Books. Co-authored with Saint John Hunt, son of E. Howard Hunt, and due out just ahead of the Iowa caucuses next year, it is about the Bushes. From the publisher’s promo page:

Jeb and the Bush Crime Family is the book that smashes through the layers of lies and secrecy that has surrounded and protected our country’s very own political dynasty.

New York Times bestselling author and legendary political insider, Roger Stone lashes out with a blistering indictment that exposes the true history and monumental hypocrisy of the Bushes. In his usual “go for the jugular” style, Stone collaborates with Saint John Hunt—author, musician, and son of legendary CIA operative E. Howard Hunt—to make this a “no-holds-barred” history of the Bush family.

The authors reveal Jeb to be a smug, entitled autocrat who both uses and hides behind his famous name as he mingles with international drug peddlers. They show how Jeb:

Received a $4 million taxpayer bailout when his daddy was Vice President
Used his insider status to make millions from Obamacare
Avoided criminal prosecution on a fraudulent Federal loan
Hypocritically supports the War on Drugs, despite his own shocking drug history

After detailing the vast litany of Jeb’s misdeeds, Stone travels back to Samuel, Prescott, George H. W., and George W. Bush to weave an epic story of privilege, greed, corruption, drug profiteering, assassination, and lies. Jeb and the Bush Crime Family will have you asking, “Why aren’t these people in prison?”

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I left Brave New Books Saturday night for the Continental Club to see the Siberian surf rockers, Igor and the Red Elvises, here peforming, “I worked at Taco Bell; She worked at KGB.”

I thought Stone might be intrigued, but he had other equally exciting Saturday night plans – “a burger with a bunch of Birchers.”

Cool.  Sounds like ripe material for the Red Elvises.

 

 

 

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