Roger Ailes and Donald Trump: A Match Made for TV

A report that the recently ousted Fox News boss is advising the Republican fits with a campaign that increasingly resembles a political remake of The Expendables.

Jim Cooper / AP

Deals, the renowned expert Donald Trump might note, happen when an arrangement is mutually beneficial for two sides. It makes a certain sense, then, that—as The New York Times reports—Roger Ailes, the recently ousted Fox News chief, is advising Donald Trump ahead of the presidential debates. The paper reports:

Mr. Ailes is aiding Mr. Trump’s team as it turns its attention to the first debate with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University on Long Island, according to four people briefed on the move, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Two of them said that Mr. Ailes’s role could extend beyond the debates, which Mr. Trump’s advisers see as crucial to vaulting him back into strong contention for the presidency after a series of self-inflicted wounds that have eroded his standing in public opinion polls.

Trump desperately needs the help, with his campaign fortunes flagging. And Ailes would surely like a chance at redemption after being suddenly and unceremoniously dropped over a raft of allegations that he sexually harassed female employees at Fox News.

Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied the report:

But other reporters, including Gabriel Sherman, an expert on Ailes and Fox, have reported that Ailes has been informally advising Trump for months. That alone is worth considering: The boss of America’s most popular cable-news channel, and the most powerful single voice in conservative media, has been advising the Republican presidential candidate for months.

Trump, down by increasingly large numbers both nationally and in swing-state polls, needs a game-changing moment in the election, and while that could come from a range of places, the one he has the most control over is the debates.

Whatever his failings, Ailes knows his way around TV and salesmanship. He famously got his start in politics by reinventing Richard Nixon as a television-friendly, or at least television-adequate, candidate in 1968, following his disastrous televised debate against John F. Kennedy eight years earlier. As a young producer on the Mike Douglas Show, he introduced himself to the candidate, saying, “Mr. Nixon, you need a media adviser.” “What’s a media adviser?” Nixon asked, puzzled. “I am,” Ailes said.

In a sense, Ailes is a natural fit for the Trump campaign. The candidate has consciously styled himself after Nixon in ’68, right down to borrowing phrases like “silent majority” and calling himself the candidate of “law and order.”

One of Trump’s closest advisers is Roger Stone, who formally left the campaign a year ago but is reportedly still in close contact with the candidate and his team. Stone is an old Nixon hand—as a teenager, he worked for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, sending a contribution to the Young Socialist Alliance in the name of Pete McCloskey, a Nixon challenger—who famously bears a tattoo of Tricky Dick on his back. Stone also has a long history of racism, lies, and unsavory connections. Stone’s old business partner Paul Manafort is the chairman of the Trump campaign. Manafort didn’t work for Nixon, but he was an aide to Gerald Ford, helping him beat back a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan in 1976. As has been in the news this week, Manafort also has a dubious past, working for repressive leaders from Ferdinand Marcos to Viktor Yanukovych.

Ailes, a former Nixon aide badly tarnished by the sexual-harassment scandal, first right in with them. It’s like a political remake of The Expendables: Grizzled veterans of bareknuckle Republican politics the 1960s and 1970s get back together, hauling a train car’s worth of baggage, for one last dirty job.

Ailes is of a piece with other members of Trump’s circle in another uncomfortable way, too. Notable Trump pals, surrogates, and endorsers have included Bobby Knight, the legendarily chair-throwing retired basketball coach; Don King, the boxing promoter who once stomped a man to death, and whom Republican leaders reportedly had to strong-arm Trump into dropping from a convention speaking slot; and convicted rapist Mike Tyson.

Trump’s tolerance for violence and misogyny among his associates is striking; it goes back decades, to his close relationships with mob figures. By now, adding an adviser who was recently fired over accusations of serial sexual harassment would be as unsurprising as hiring a TV wizard for debate prep.