Stone, at the age of 19, was the youngest person to testify to the Watergate grand jury, as an employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President. He was, he says, behind the Brooks Brothers riot during the 2000 election. And, in perhaps the most influential act of his career, he persuaded Donald Trump to get into politics. “[Stone] always likes to take on somebody that at least has a good chance of winning,” the president says in an on-camera interview, showcasing his characteristic flair for self-aggrandizing compliments.
But the film, which follows Stone through his fluctuating role on the Trump campaign, is also an incisive portrait of how Stone’s brand of dirty tricks—in which the only motivating factor in politics is to win—came to dominate the current state of disarray. Stone, as he’s wont to do, cheerfully takes credit for all manner of shifts in the last four decades of U.S. elections, from the birth of PACs and superPACs to the rising influence of lobbyists to the dominance of anger and fear in the media. You may find yourself wondering, as the Fox host Tucker Carlson does at one point, whether all of these developments can actually be traced back to Stone, or whether he’s just the most dastardly self-promoter in history. But Get Me Roger Stone is a thorough and entertaining primer into how American politics got so ugly, not to mention a crucial window into the mentality of the unorthodox 45th president.
Now in his 60s, sporting bow-ties, suspenders, and an overbearing air of insouciance, Stone resembles no one so much as a senior Pee-wee Herman. He stokes the caricature of the mustache-twirling plutocrat, being interviewed in an opulent dining room next to a three-olive martini, where he expounds on “Stone’s Rules,” one-sentence aphorisms like, “It’s better to be infamous than never to be famous at all,” and “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civil political action.” Extremely charismatic and unabashedly outspoken, he’s a documentarian’s dream. And this before the film even gets to unpacking Stone’s involvement in the rise of Trump, or his embrace of the alt-right.
The Stone mystique is carefully curated. Stone recalls early on how, at a mock election at his elementary school, he took a liking to John F. Kennedy because he had “better hair” than Nixon, and he persuaded his classmates to vote for JFK by assuring them Nixon planned to introduce school on Saturdays. “For the first time ever, I understood the value of misinformation,” Stone says, with a glint in his eye. That the story is too good to be true only further emphasizes his point.
The film details his passion for Barry Goldwater at the age of 12, and his first dirty trick, where he showed up to the campaign HQ of a Nixon rival with a jar of loose change donated by the “Young Socialist Alliance,” then asked for a receipt, which he promptly gave to the press. Stone, who shows the directors his extraordinary collection of Nixon memorabilia, seems to have identified a kindred spirit in the 37th president. “His greatest single quality is resilience,” Stone explains. “And that’s the purpose of my tattoo. It’s a reminder that in life when you get knocked down … you have to get up and keep pushing.”