Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chief, is advising the campaign of Donald Trump as it gears up for a Sept. 26 debate with Hillary Clinton, the New York Times is reporting.
Let’s just call it the least surprising scoop of the 2016 campaign.
Some biography here: Ailes has always straddled the worlds of television and politics. It was January 1968 when Ailes, then with “The Mike Douglas Show,” met Richard Nixon and attempted to sell him on the merits of hiring a media adviser. He succeeded. Thus launched a career assisting various Republican politicians, including George H.W. Bush, Mitch McConnell and Rudy Giuliani. After Ronald Reagan performed poorly in his first debate against Democrat Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, Ailes was brought in to assist with a turnaround. As Gabriel Sherman recounts in his Ailes biography “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” Ailes told Reagan’s lieutenants to give him access to the president. “If you give me that, he’ll win. If you don’t, he’ll probably lose,” Ailes boasted.
Politics was difficult to leave behind as Ailes went back to television. When he took over CNBC in 1993, he kept a picture of George Bush in his office. “It never sat well with me that a political hatchet man was coming to run what is basically a down-the-middle business news network,” said a CNBC anchor, as quoted in Sherman’s biography. Evidence that Ailes really had trouble separating his two worlds surfaced time and again at Fox News, which he launched in October 1996. He showed a knack for padding his payroll with GOP presidential aspirants, including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and others. He once sent a network analyst to sound out Gen. David Petraeus about whether he’d consider a 2012 presidential run, complete with a hint that Ailes might just assist with his campaign. He also made overtures to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the 2012 cycle.
“Ailes is the most successful executive in television by a wide margin, and he has been so for more than a decade. He is also, in a sense, the head of the Republican Party,” Sherman wrote in a 2011 piece for New York Magazine.
All of this is to say that the 76-year-old Ailes continues to do what he has been doing for decades: wheeling and dealing with the country’s top Republicans.
In August last year, Trump began his one-sided hammering of Fox News host Megyn Kelly for having asked him a tough question at the first Republican presidential debate. The abuse was bizarre and barbed. Trump not only criticized Kelly but also Fox News more generally. A news organization not managed by a longtime political operative might have just told Trump to buzz off. No such scenario obtained here, though: Ailes engaged in a series of phone conversations with Trump — conversations that appeared to continue throughout the primary season. The high-level chitchats escalated in January, when Trump was considering whether to attend a Fox News debate in Iowa.
Then Ailes’s career in television cratered. In early July, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment and retaliation — a stunning piece of litigation that prompted an internal review and a parade of other former Ailes co-workers to come forth with their stories of working with Ailes. In toto, they depict Ailes as a butt-grabbing, serial harasser of women.
He lost his job with Fox News.
But he hasn’t lost his obsession with assisting Republican candidates, as his discussions with Trump reflect. In an indication of just how far Ailes has sunk, however, even the Trump campaign — the vehicle of a man with a record of sexist commentary — doesn’t want any fingerprints on this particular collaboration. “This is not accurate,” campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks wrote in reply to a request from the Erik Wemple Blog. “He is not advising Mr. Trump or helping with debate prep. They are longtime friends, but he has no formal or informal role in the campaign.”