By Jason Zengerle
Are they leaking dirt to the Enquirer? Preparing for a riot in Cleveland? Trump political pal Roger Stone on how Team Trump is waging war.
Last week, after the National Enquirer published a salacious story alleging that Ted Cruz had had at least five extramarital affairs, the Texas senator not only denied the story but singled out the person he believed was responsible for planting it: veteran Republican strategist—and on-again, off-again adviser to Donald Trump—Roger Stone.
I spoke with Stone about the Cruz story, but also about the state of the race and how Trump might be preparing for a fight at the GOP convention. A lightly edited and condensed transcript of our conversation follows.
Ted Cruz called you a rat-fucker, accusing you of being behind the National Enquirer’s recent story about his supposed sex scandal. He’s denied the story.
You’ve denied the accusation. What do you think is really going on here?
Well, let me ask the most obvious question. If I were going to plant the story as a dirty trick, why would I be quoted on the record in same story? I wasn’t born yesterday. Why would I leave a big old thumbprint if I was trying to do something surreptitious? This story, as the actual story says, came from private detectives who were working for a presidential candidate who was not Donald Trump. And I believe that the campaign in question was most likely that of Marco Rubio, based on a lot of published evidence, and the Rubio people, I can confirm personally, were peddling this line to reporters. I think in the end they never got a buyer or they pulled back, and of course his candidacy collapsed so it became moot. Then I think the private detectives may have collected twice on the story. But I responded to a call from the National Enquirer. The National Enquirer actually told me about two allegations that I was entirely unaware of.
But this has been kicking around Texas politics for a long time. Even more precisely, major mainstream media organizations like The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and others have been actively working this story, trying to get some confirmation. Now, maybe their journalistic standards are higher than the National Enquirer’s, but I never planted anything in the National Enquirer. I never discussed this with Donald, nor with his campaign. So it’s entirely unfair. There’s as much evidence that I planted this as there’s evidence that Ted Cruz has fooled around with five women. Where’s the proof? I think I was a convenient scapegoat. I understand the game. Ted’s trying to deflect from his own potential culpability here by blaming the whole thing on Trump. And, look, I’m a brand name when it comes to dirty tricks. He called me a henchman, and I don’t really object to that, but henchmen get paid, and I have been paid nothing by Trump.
What is the relationship between Trump and David Pecker, the publisher of the Enquirer?
They’re evidently friends. I only know that by reading it. I’ve never discussed Pecker with Trump. I think Pecker is definitely a Trump booster.
Putting aside the sex scandal, do you see any path for Cruz—or Kasich, for that matter—to get the nomination at this point? Or do you think it’s Trump’s?
I think it’ll either be Trump on the first ballot [at the convention] or Paul Ryan on the fourth. If they can manage to euchre this nomination away from Trump by cheating, or because he falls short and can’t get the small number of votes he needs to get over the top, which I think is unlikely, then it won’t be Ted Cruz. But that’s because of his personality, not because of his politics, because he’s essentially a globalist—he has a Bush pedigree, came out of the Bush White House and the Bush campaign, his wife worked for Condi, his wife worked for Robert Zoellick, I mean this guy is a self-styled constitutional conservative. What the
Establishment doesn’t like about him, it’s not his politics, it’s his personality. But there’s no great enthusiasm for him. The Bushes genuinely don’t like him. None of the players in the game like him. None of the senators like him. I think he’d get passed over here. He becomes a vehicle to help the Establishment stop Trump. But he would need 86 percent of the delegates going forward to win the nomination. I just think that is highly unlikely.
And Kasich is even less likely?
I still believe Kasich is running for vice president. I think Kasich has seen the meteoric rise of George H.W. Bush under Reagan. If you want proof of that, it’s Kasich’s statement that under no circumstances would he run for vice president. That’s almost like an open declaration that you want to be vice president. In politics, no means yes and yes means no.
Who should Trump pick as vice president if he actually gets the nomination?
It’s a wide-open question. Is he going to need to bargain the vice presidency? Trump does what Trump does best: make a deal. If you’re at 1,100 delegates and you need 1,237, there’s half a dozen people you can go to for vice president that might bring you the vote. And they aren’t necessarily people who ran before. The brilliance of Trump is that he’s a businessman. He never takes any option off the table until it’s time to take it off the table. I don’t think he has a person in mind. I’ve never discussed it with him other than to have him say that he hasn’t thought about it and he’s entirely focused on getting the nomination.
Do you have faith in his political operation that he actually will be able to outmaneuver people at the convention? You look at this Louisiana delegate situation, and that seems like a bad sign.
I think that that is problematic. The question now is they have to shift from being a very successful primary operation to being a successful convention operation. I like Ed Brookover, the guy they brought in. He’s an old pro, he’s got a huge task. I’m hoping that he gets help. [After Stone and I spoke, Trump announced that he’d hired Paul Manafort, Stone’s old business partner, to help with delegate-wrangling.] But I still think the real contest here is not so much in Cleveland as it is between now and Cleveland. What happens in Wisconsin and California and New Jersey and Pennsylvania is key, because I expect that Cruz is going to chisel Trump in Colorado and Arizona and North Dakota. He’s going to do the same kind of thing you saw in Louisiana, where they grabbed five extra delegates. The same kind of thing you see in South Carolina, where they’re trying to grab delegates. The same kind of thing you see in New York, where they’re trying to pack anti-Trump delegates.
Remember, the delegates who are pledged to vote for Trump on the first ballot are not bound [to him on subsequent ballots]. So if the Establishment is going to try to steal from Trump, that’s where they’d have to do it. And the full convention has to ratify those actions in an up or down vote. That could be—could be—the test vote if the kingmakers really want to pursue a committee-based strategy to try to stop Trump.
You were critical of Trump back in the summer for his attacks on Megyn Kelly. He’s obviously kept at it. Do you stand by your criticism of him for that? And what do you say to this bigger charge against him that he’s a misogynist ?He’s definitely not a misogynist. I think his daughter gives a lie to that with her own firsthand testimony. It’s an unfair rap. I think he’s much stronger when he talks about his core issues. Why deviate from trade, the safety of our streets, our fiscal disaster, our enormous debt, international trade deals that are killing this country? As long as he continues to talk about those things, I think he will be propelled forward. I think anything else is a distraction.
Why does he keep on going back to it then?
Well, I can tell you, having worked for Trump for almost forty years, on and off, no one puts words in his mouth. Nobody suggests what he should or should not say. He doesn’t work that way. He asks a lot of questions, he gets a lot of opinions, he mulls it. But he’s a master of his own fate. He is his own strategist. And his strategy has been brilliant. If you had told me a year ago that he could combat all of this incredibly heavy negative advertising in every medium—television, radio, cable, mail, so on—with a free-media-based strategy, I would never have believed it. I mean, Trump is better than his campaign. Trump has been outspent every place, both on the ground and in the air wars, and he’s still won, in most cases, going away. So only Trump can tell you why Trump does the things Trump does.
You mentioned the free-media-based campaign. He has this very strange, symbiotic relationship with the media, which he bashes at every turn and yet relies on to get his word out. What do you think he actually thinks of the press and reporters? Is he playing a game there? Or does he hate them as much as he says?
He likes some reporters. He dislikes others. There are those that he thinks have been unfair to him. There are those that he believes have been fair to him. But I think that he’s very interested in the polls, as he’s said many, many, many times. And I think in that enthusiasm, he’s disappointed when he wins big on some of these online polls and there’s no publicity on it. I think that’s understandable. But in the non-Internet-based polls, he’s doing incredibly well, so I’m not sure what difference it makes.
How often do you talk to Trump?
From time to time?
Does that mean weekly? Monthly?
We just have a rhythm. More often than that, but not every day, not every other day. From time to time.
And you’re still giving him advice?
We’re still talking politics. I’m involved with a PAC that is specifically doing one narrow thing, which is collecting evidence of voter fraud in Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas, Hawaii, Ohio, and several other states. I don’t know in the end if that information can be used [to] challenge some of the Cruz delegates or not. Remember, the convention’s not governed by federal or state law. The convention’s only governed by its own rules. Therefore the convention committee can seat or unseat delegates. In 1952, Taft lost the presidential nomination because Eisenhower challenged the seating of the Louisiana and Texas delegations, first in the credentials committee and, being successful there, the report went to the full convention, where the Eisenhower people convinced the chair that the delegates in question from Louisiana and Texas should not be allowed to vote on their own seat. That broke Taft’s back on that test vote, and he lost the nomination right then and there. The Eisenhower delegates were seated. That gave Eisenhower a majority. The race was over.
What do you think would happen if Paul Ryan is the nominee on the fourth ballot?
I think the party would lose. You’d be turning down all of the independents and first-time voters and millennials and Democrats and many of the Bernie Sanders supporters—not his hard-left supporters but his economic supporters who are attracted by his opposition to the international trade deals and his crackdown on Wall Street. Trump has advocated higher taxes for hedge-fund managers. He’s the first guy to do so. So I think some of those populist, anti-elitist, outsider voters who are attracted to Bernie would be attracted to Trump. You lose all of that. The Republican Party under Paul Ryan goes back to being a small country-club party of all the right people, the party who thinks they’re the 47 percent.
Do you think there’d be riots in Cleveland, as some people have speculated, were it to go to a fourth ballot and Trump didn’t win?
I think there’d be extreme anger by the Trump supporters. I don’t know that it would boil over into violence. Trump is certainly not advocating violence. But people will be very, very angry—particularly people who have been enthused and dragged into this process who are now involved. I gave a speech to a group on behalf of Trump, as a surrogate for Trump, last Monday, and nobody there had ever been involved in politics before. They were wearing T-shirts and they were very, very jazzed up, but this was their first experience in democratic politics. Those kinds of people will be turned off forever.
What do you think Trump would do? Would he mount a third-party bid?
First of all, it’s already late for a third-party bid. You’d have to be circulating petitions right now in Texas in order to make the deadline to get on there. Also, recognize that there’s a real difference between a third-party bid and an independent bid. I don’t know of any existing third party that would be likely to nominate Trump. Not the Greens, not the Libertarians. And the only advantage there is that the Libertarians have automatic ballot access in, like, 28 states. I think it’s less for the Greens. So in essence, what you’re really talking about is an independent candidacy. The barriers to that are much higher in terms of the number of signatures, and you’d have to get on everywhere. You have no gimmes, no automatics. That is a daunting task. That is a 30- or 40-million-dollar-plus, maybe a 100-million-dollar effort, in the very compressed time that you have. It’d be very difficult.
If Trump is the nominee and he runs against Hillary and then he lost in November to her, it’s hard to envision him conceding a race in some ways. Is that a fair perception? Or do you think he’s the kind of guy who, were he to lose, he’d do the standard, gracious concession?
As long as there was no evidence that it was stolen from him. If there were egregious evidence that George Soros and his cronies stole the election, then I think he’d challenge them. Trump believes in the Constitution of the United States. He’s a Constitutionalist. I think he would be very disappointed and he would be sorrowful for his country, because it would be four more years of what we’ve had for the last 30 years.
Jason Zengerle is GQ’s political correspondent.