Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman ousted last month over charges of sexual harassment, is advising Donald J. Trump as he begins to prepare for the all-important presidential debates this fall.That report comes from The New York Times, so I believe it, although The Hollywood Reporter tells us that Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks has categorically denied it. There's also this:
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 on Long Island, according to three people briefed on the move, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
I don't know what's more unbelievable. That Roger Ailes is doing debate prep with Trump or that Trump is doing debate prep.— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) August 16, 2016
Well, there may not be much actual prep, but I'm sure Ailes will have many ideas about how Trump can be even more toxically aggressive and offputting than he already is. Recall how Ailes advised George H.W. Bush in 1988, according to a Bush adviser quoted by New York magazine in 1997:
"Roger would tell Bush, 'You can't wear a short-sleeve shirt -- you'll look like a fucking faggot.' Teacups dropped. But Bush liked Roger's act."Ailes's debate advice for Bush in '88?
“Forget all the facts and figures,” he said, “and move to the offense as quickly as possible."Ailes's role in pre-debate prep was to try to humiliate Bush's opponent, Mike Dukakis, who wasn't very tall:
And he was just as much of a grown-up when debate time came:
Early in the campaign, Republican opposition researchers discovered that Dukakis, as governor of Massachusetts, once vetoed a law that would have made it illegal for humans to have sex with animals. It had been tacked onto a piece of legislation that Dukakis opposed; his veto was no more than pro forma. But Ailes found a use for it.... At the first debate, ... Bush seemed tense and nervous. Just before he took the stage, Ailes took him aside and whispered, "If you get in trouble out there, just call him an animal fucker." Bush cracked up.Bush could be a nasty SOB, but he had to be worked up to that state of aggression. Ailes was good at working him up. But Trump starts at that level of toxicity. Aggression is his default mode. This already alienates voters outside his base -- how unpleasant is Trump going to seem after Ailes has inspired him to be even more thuggish?
Remember, Ailes's smashmouth tactics worked in '88 because Dukakis's was new to big-league politics, and because presidential campaigns didn't typically sink to that level then. Hillary Clinton's been in the majors for a quarter century now, and that sort of below-the-belt politics is the air we breathe these days. As Politico notes today, in a story that ran before we learned about Ailes's role in the Trump campaign, Team Clinton is expecting the debates to go straight into the gutter:
The person picked to be Hillary Clinton's sparring partner in her upcoming debate prep sessions is expected to confront her about the death of Vincent Foster, label her as a rapist's enabler, and invoke the personally painful memories of Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers.If Ailes were smart, he'd be advising Trump to surprise Clinton with kindness (and also with a mastery of policy). But Ailes is too much of a toxic male to think that way, as is Trump -- and Trump won't nail the policy in any case. Advised by Ailes, Trump is going to aim punches at Clinton that she sees coming a mile away.
... one of the key components of [Clinton's] prep, campaign allies said, is finding a person who can stand in as Donald Trump during mock debates and launch personal attacks on the former secretary of state that will make the real Trump look tame by comparison.
... “You can't put it beyond Trump that Monica Lewinsky will play a role in this debate,” said Greg Craig, President Obama’s former White House counsel who played George W. Bush in John Kerry’s 2004 debate prep, and John McCain in prep sessions against Barack Obama in 2008. “She's got to be prepared to deal with the Foundation and Wall Street and super PACs and all of that. They need to be less focused on dealing with his policy proposals and more on dealing with the unexpected. He’s going to be in attack mode, probably the whole time.”