In what would certainly be one of the unholier unions of our time, rumors have begun to emerge that Roger Ailes, the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, might go work for Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate. “A lot of people are thinking he’s going to run my campaign,” Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday, confirming that the rumors exist but speaking no further to their veracity.
Ailes resigned from his post after Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him—an increasing number of women have approached Carlson’s lawyers to say that they too have been subject to Ailes’ advances.
Not that Trump, who says he’s going to be “really good” for women, seems to care. “Well, I don’t want to comment...But he’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” Trump said on Sunday, asked to comment on the allegations against Ailes. “He’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person.”
The two men have had their differences, of course. Earlier this year, as either a matter of strategy or egotistical capriciousness, Trump lashed out at Fox News (and specifically Megyn Kelly) in an unprecedented move that likely would have precipitated the implosion of any other Republican candidate’s campaign.
As ever, Trump survived, and, in April, Gabriel Sherman reported for New York magazine that Trump was hoarding a cache of Ailes’ secrets that he had been able to use as leverage against the Fox News executive:
It was also thanks to some information he had gathered that Trump was able to do something that no other Republican has done before: take on Fox News. An odd bit of coincidence had given him a card to play against Fox founder Roger Ailes. In 2014, I published a biography of Ailes, which upset the famously paranoid executive. Several months before it landed in stores, Ailes fired his longtime PR adviser Brian Lewis, accusing him of being a source. During Lewis’s severance negotiations, Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had “bombs” that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved.
“When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,” Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. “Roger had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem.” Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.
Whether Lewis’ secrets had anything to do with the alleged culture of rampant sexual harassment at Fox News is unclear. But if Trump wants to position himself as the “law and order candidate,” he’s going to have to come up with a more nuanced plan than literally just calling himself the “law and order candidate.” Who better than the man who invented “law and order” candidates?
“We see cities enveloped in smoke and flame,” Richard Nixon said during his 1968 speech at the RNC, accepting the party’s nomination. “We hear sirens in the night. We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad. We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish: Did we come all this way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?”
Aides would go on to become Nixon’s media advisor, and later Ronald Reagan’s, George H.W. Bush’s, and Rudy Giuliani’s. And, as the New Yorker’s David Remnick pointed out last week, despite their differences, there was much in Trump’s speech on Thursday for someone like Ailes to be excited by:
The nominee began with a phrase about “generosity and warmth” (barked, it’s true, as if some kind of threat), but—untethered to statistics or facts, and with his inner volume dialled past eleven—Trump went on to portray a country facing a Clinton legacy of “death, destruction, and weakness,” a nation of lawless immigrants roaming cities and towns, “chaos” in the streets, radical Islamic terrorists opposed by nothing but a pusillanimous government and its popgun military.
Because Trump was reading a script, there were no astonishments—no Mexican “rapists” or blood “coming out of her wherever.” Instead, we learned of an America blanketed in smoke and flame, a vision of fear meted out in countless kickers. And, just as Ailes may have counselled, there was no attempt at building a nuanced case or offering realistic solutions. There was only the assurance that Trump was the panacea. Give him power and everything will change magically and “fast.”
On Sunday, Trump praised Ailes’ talent and hard work making Fox News what it is. “And now all of a sudden they’re saying these horrible things about him,” the Republican nominee said. “It’s very sad.”