Roger Stone is currently one of the most powerful men in the Republican Party. He has worked on campaigns for Reagan, Nixon, and most recently was fundamental for the election of Trump. The words ‘Roger Stone’ are usually followed by ‘dirty trickster’ as he is infamous for his unorthodox political tactics. It is not unfair to say that Donald Trump would not currently be in the White House were it not for Roger Stone.
He’s an outspoken figure; CNN and MSNBC have both previously banned him from their shows and most famously he has been suspended from Twitter. Uproar broke out this week as the BBC hosted him on the Today programme. In an interview with Palatinate, Stone speaks of his views on Brexit, Steve Bannon, censorship, and his involvement in the Trump campaign.
Speaking to Stone before his address at the Union, I am aware that this is a man at the centre of American politics. Despite leaving the Trump campaign in 2015, he continued to speak publicly in support of his bid. A recent Netflix documentary entitled Get Me Roger Stone charts his rise to political fame, culminating in Trump’s election.
We spoke first about his treatment by the media and his reactions to his recent Twitter ban, which was due to his explicit comments towards CNN. Stone responded, “I think censorship is what erodes our democracy; something has changed in our politics, it used to be that we wanted to debate those that we disagreed with, now we just want to silence them. It is proof that my critics […] aren’t able to compete in the battlefield of ideas so they engage in censorship – they just want to shut you up – I’m not ever going to be shut up”. Stone then told me how he had been asked to talk on Fox News this evening, but the link up between Durham and the States would have been impossible.
“I think the Guardian should be ashamed of themselves for saying the BBC shouldn’t interview Roger Stone. Well, better for them to interview me and challenge me than for them to censor me”
An article published by the Guardian has criticised the BBC for ‘normalising Roger Stone’ and not providing strong enough opposition when he appeared on the Today programme with John Humphreys. “I think the Guardian should be ashamed of themselves for saying the BBC shouldn’t interview Roger Stone. Well, better for them to interview me and challenge me than for them to censor me”.
Over the Atlantic, the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has caused a chaotic backlash amongst Trump supporters. In the book, Steve Bannon, a former strategic advisor to the President, describes the meeting of Donald Trump Jr and a group of Russians during the 2016 campaign. Stone admits to me that he hasn’t actually read the entire book because he refuses to pay for it. Stone recalls Wolff’s “reputation for fabrication” and notes how in many of his interviews he tells us not how things are but how they should have been. “I am shocked that Bannon would engage in such poor judgement but also in such a stunning act of betrayal”. Stone comments on Bannon’s relatively new introduction to politics and his appointment to a high position by Donald Trump. “He repaid that elevation with treachery. That’s not to say that Mr Bannon is not entitled to his views, but the President is entitled to […] discretion at a minimum and loyalty most certainly”.
“I am shocked that Bannon would engage in such poor judgement but also in such a stunning act of betrayal”
Conversation then moved onto the topic of the presidential elections in 2020; news has circulated of celebrities such as Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg running for the presidency. Stone comments on the difficulty of predicting the political atmosphere too early. He is quick to note that in the first year of his time in the White House, Trump has created 2 million jobs, helped to repatriate multinational companies to the Unites States, and brought African American and Hispanic unemployment to an historic low: “Something which didn’t happen under Barack Obama”.
Stone then goes onto say he believes that the Democratic nominee will be Michelle Obama, and she will be a “very, very formidable and viable candidate. She is an accomplished woman on her own, she’s an attorney, she was first lady”. Stone comments on Michelle Obama’s increased public presence and how she understands the “pop culture nature of our politics”.
Stone has wanted Trump to run for the candidacy since 1998, and he puts this down to his “universal celebrity: everybody knew who he was”. A candidate has to be known before they can put forward any political policies. He then mentioned Kamala Harris, a member of the Democratic Party who has been serving as Senator for California since 2017. “Nobody in America outside of California knows who she is and getting well known in the United States is more difficult than it may first appear”. Stone then adds how consistent the ratings were for all 15 seasons of The Apprentice, a show which brought Donald Trump into the public spotlight. It is clear to me interviewing Stone, that popularity, and not policy, has become the driving force in his politics.
Stone has wanted Trump to run for the candidacy since 1998, and he puts this down to his “universal celebrity: everybody knew who he was”.
We then turned to the UK and inevitably to Brexit. “I think that the populist uprising that manifested itself in the Brexit vote is the same wave we saw in the United States”. Stone adds how they studied the referendum very carefully as there were a number of similarities between it and the presidential campaign: the opposition of the political elites and how the polls got it wrong. Stone says of the Brexit negotiations that the UK government is “postponing the inevitable to the economic cost of the tax payers – let’s get on with it”. Stone goes on to say how the Chinese and the US are willing to forge new trade relations with the UK.
Not many can claim to have had such an impact, good or bad, upon global politics as Roger Stone. His personality almost defines the Trump era: confident, determined, and more than willing to disregard convention. When discussing his presence in the media, Stone is quick to comment that both CNN and MSNBC have had him on their shows since the ban. He adds, “they must have thought I was newsworthy”.
Image: Helen Paton via the Durham Union