Roger Stone, Political Animal
"Above all, attack, attack, attack--never defend."
Nov 5, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 08 • By MATT LABASH
It's why I find sentiments like "Who needs to be spun?" strangely refreshing. Unlike most political hacks, who are bloodless participants in a pageant which turns almost entirely on artifice, Stone acknowledges the game and his exploitation of it. He often sets his pronouncements off with the utterance "Stone's Rules," signifying listeners that one of his shot-glass commandments is coming down, a pithy dictate uttered with the unbending certitude one usually associates with the Book of Deuteronomy. Some original, some borrowed, Stone's Rules address everything from fashion to food to how to screw people. And one of his favorite Stone's Rules is "Unless you can fake sincerity, you'll get nowhere in this business." He is honest about his dishonesty. "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.
For instance, after Trump, he went on to advise the gubernatorial campaign of New York billionaire Tom Golisano. It can be regarded as a revenge fantasy against George Pataki who Stone considers a counterfeit conservative, and whose lobbying commission dinged Stone and Trump for a $250,000 settlement--Trump paid--the largest in state history, for not filing lobbying reports about radio ads attacking the expansion of Indian casino interests. It chafes Stone to this day. He is adamant that the settlement contained no admission of wrongdoing, and says it wasn't his call, joking that Trump settled because "he's a pussy."
Stone exacted a little revenge by causing headaches for Pataki, who won the 2002 general election, but who was aced out of the desired Independence party nomination by Golisano. This was partly due to tried-and-true Stone ploys such as mailing voters official-looking envelopes inscribed with "Important Property Tax Notice," while the message inside informed voters that since George "Patakifeller" had been governor, "property taxes in your county have increased by nearly 48.9 percent."
In Stone capers, revenge is a powerful motivator. His friend Jeffrey Bell--an occasional contributor to this magazine--had Stone run his failed bid for New Jersey senator in 1982. Bell says that Stone was so agitated at losing the Republican primary to the dearly beloved, pipe-smoking, septuagenarian Millicent Fenwick that Stone packed Bell's pollsters off to her Democratic opponent, Frank Lautenberg, and they persuaded his campaign to attack her on age grounds. Lautenberg narrowly won. Bell, who'd resisted the tactic, recalls hearing Stone saying something to the effect of "I am going to kill that woman." "He's a lord of mischief," laughs Bell. "He likes money, and has made plenty of it, but that's not the prime mover. I don't think he's that ideological. He's a political junkie. He loves to be in the middle of it."
Shortly after Golisano's defeat, Stone got involved in advising Al Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign. Many cast Sharpton as the Trojan horse Stone was trying to ride into the enemy camp. Stone doesn't deny that it was great fun watching Sharpton take the piss out of Howard Dean for not employing minorities--which he did at Stone's prompting. But he dismisses any grand conspiracy: "I love the game. I'm a kibitzer. I couldn't resist giving him good advice. He followed some, he ignored most." Though as Sharpton's campaign manager Charles Halloran, an old Stone crony, told me during the South Carolina primary in 2004, "If Roger found some ants in an anthill that he thought he could divide and get pissed off with each other, he'd be in his backyard right now with a magnifying glass."