My man date with Roger Stone was an affair to remember.
He suggested the Empire Room, a new, pleasant lounge in the Empire State Building. The nominal consistency was inspiring. The blackberry soda was sublime.
I arrived before him and bided my time at the bar. Soon, he walked in, so dapperly garbed in a dark suit with white pinstripes that the hostess complimented him before the revolving doors stopped spinning. And I must say, I’ve never seen anyone look so good in Richard Nixon cufflinks.
He’s ruffled (or plucked) a few feathers along the way and been involved in some controversial dust-ups to be sure, and perhaps I’m being overly generous, but I found Stone to be amiable, if not colorful.
Maybe that’s because we are not political adversaries. And hopefully we won’t be by the end of this piece.
I’m sure I’m not the first to call him a character. I wouldn’t say he has a chip on his shoulder, but I would say he is riled up about some things. And once you get him started, as after a good tug to a pull-cord on a leaf-blower, he keeps going.
Nonetheless, he’s not a stereotype. He’s not some Republican talking point regurgitator. Half of his preferences are anathema to conservatives and half of them are ambrosia to liberals, and vice versa. Politics aside, he also has a compelling personal story.
I wish I could say that in some of the responses below I am quoting him out of context, but it’s more that he just started speaking out of context. We definitely went off on tangents. In fact, somehow we were already on one as I clicked on my recorder…
Brief Wit: So, you’re not a Birther? (Someone who thinks Barack Obama was not born in the US.)
Roger Stone: There’s something here because the Birthers would be easy to shut down. Why doesn’t [Obama] just produce his birth certificate? He’s produced his certificate of live birth. Not the same thing. Not even remotely the same thing. (Note: this claim appears to be bogus after a fast search.) I’m not convinced. Something’s not right.
In all honesty, Hillary Clinton missed the boat. She was so sure she would win [the Democratic nomination]. The first time a Secretary of State put his name on the ballot, she should have gotten one of her supporters to challenge it in court and he wouldn’t be president today. She was so sure she was gonna beat him, so sure he was a lightweight and not a danger. And that black America loved her husband more than anyone in the world.
I’m definitely not a Birther. There is something odd about it. It could have all been vetted early if someone had taken Barack Obama seriously. Bill and Hillary Clinton are the most vicious, meanest campaigners in the world. I love them for that. They should have challenged him the first time a Secretary of State put him on the ballot.
BW: Are you religious at all?
RS: I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. I believe in God, but I think basically organized religion is a hoax. I mean you can kind of see the scene, right? There’s a bunch of Italian politicians sitting around. One of them says, “I got a great idea. We’ll tell them it’s a sin if they don’t show up for mass every Sunday. That’ll keep the dumb bastards coming every Sunday and putting money in the plate.”
Polish politician, followed by an Italian politician, followed by a German politician. I’m not religious, but I have always been a Goldwater small government [supporter]. Y’know, I just think that people should be free to smoke what they want, eat what they want, drink what they want, fuck who they want, marry who they want, live with who they want. This is America.
I’m a Libertarian. I’ve always been a Libertarian. There are different kinds of Republicans. I have never been a Religious Right Republican.
BW: So, if favoring same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, and prostitution are all positions you have held for years and that Kristin Davis is running on, why haven’t they been a noticeable part of your prior work?
RS: I would argue that they have. I was opposed to the Religious Right influence on the party post-Reagan. I worked against them; I joined several coalitions to support the separation of church and state, to keep the Republican Party pitched around economic issues and not religious issues. Our party has factions. The Religious Right is a fact of life in our party. And therefore as Nixon used to say, “You can’t win with just the Right, and you can’t win without the Right.”
Moderates are now just in the middle of figuring out that Barack Obama is a giant talking con man.
The only thing that creates jobs is tax reduction and smaller government. A lot of this blame belongs to George W. “The Spender” Bush. He spent like a Democrat. But understand that George W. Bush and his father and his brother are not conservatives. They are just crony capitalists interested in making money for their wealthy friends and starting a war on the other side of the globe. I know them very well; I beat them in the 1980 primaries. I handled Connecticut and New York for Ronald Reagan. We beat the living daylights out of George H.W. Bush. And the Bushes never forget.
I would like to see [Republicans] recast ourselves as more of a Libertarian-based, freedom-based party. If we’re going to pitch our party around opposition to gay marriage, for example, then we can be prepared to be a minority forever.
BW: Fair enough, but on these issues, your stances don’t just seem libertarian, they seem liberal. If you ask people whether they think gay marriage is a liberal or conservative thing, most would say liberal.
RS: Not so. That’s only because for a long time there were a lot of people who wandered around and couldn’t figure out if they were a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican.
Because [they’re] conservative on economic and defense issues, but liberal on social issues. You’ve just described a Libertarian. Libertarians are growing. Libertarians argue that you’re using other people’s terms to define them. Instead, say “I’m a Libertarian, I believe in freedom across the board. Economic freedom. Personal freedom.”
And that’s really what Kristin Davis’ campaign is about. The freedom to smoke weed. The freedom to marry whomever you like. But also the conservative economics of legalizing marijuana and taxing it so you can cut the income tax and the property tax, which are more regressive.
BW: In that case, what do you think of Bill Maher, a well-known Libertarian?
RS: His head’s too big for his body. I’ve done the old show and the new show.
He never stops to say hello to you, but he comes in surrounded by his armed guards. If there are any good-looking women he will stop and talk to them. And then they take him out the side door and back to the green room.
Here’s Bill’s problem: not funny. He’s a comedian, right? Not funny. Never been funny. Never will be funny. We ought to get him together with Nancy Reagan because both their heads are too big for their bodies.
BW: Can you comment on the tendency of the Davis campaign to rely on sex as a tactic? Is it something you believe is a necessity for fundraising from certain circles despite how it may harm your credibility?
RS: I think it’s something you need for notoriety. In other words, in a mass culture in which you have 200 channels on cable TV, plus broadcast television, plus magazines on every subject you can think of, plus the Internet, you have this enormous glut of information. You have no name ID; no one knows who Kristin Davis is. How do you break through? By being interesting. And provocative. And sex always sells.
BW: As a way of getting your name out there?
RS: As a way of getting attention to begin with. Then you can pivot to discussing the issues you want to. I think what Kristin Davis is doing is using her notoriety to force a discussion of her issues.
In other words, this is not a diatribe about Eliot Spitzer, that’s just the jumping-off point. Yes, it’s true she supplied the prostitutes. Yes, it’s true they gave her $10 million bail for a victimless, nonviolent crime. And they sent her to Riker’s [Island] to shut her up, because Eliot Spitzer and [former District Attorney] Robert Morgenthau are very close friends.
So yeah, there’s a certain injustice there, but that’s not what the campaign is about. She is running to highlight the inequities of the criminal justice system between the wealthy and well-connected and the poor and disconnected. Then you move onto an issue agenda.
There is only one candidate in this race who has any programs for producing [new] revenue for the state. Everybody else will tell you, “We’re going to cut spending, cut taxes, create jobs.”
BW: There is a certain “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” component to your alliance. You first met Kristin Davis last year. How?
RS: We were on a [Sirius/XM] radio show together. I had first admired her photo on the cover of the New York Post. I made it a point to do the show because I had wanted to meet her. I was just very impressed; she’s very articulate.
BW: What was she talking about?
RS: Spitzer. What happened to her. The thing that impressed me the most was her resilience. Four months in Riker’s Island, y’know, having people spread your legs and do a cavity search while 20 guys watch is not my idea of a good time.
She went through serious psychosexual torture. The public needs to know that. I think a lesser person would have been bitter, damaged. She was really amazingly resilient about putting her life back together.
So we had coffee. She wanted to learn more about politics. This is a woman who never read the newspaper. The entire time Spitzer was Attorney General he was booking prostitutes, she didn’t know who he was. She had no interest. She was making $5 million a year. She didn’t watch TV. She had no idea that the Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer in the state, busy busting others for what he was doing, was a customer of hers. Until she saw his picture in the paper, she didn’t know who he was!
BW: Did she pay her taxes?
RS: Actually, she did: “Escort services.” They’re paying for time. [She’s] not promising any sexual services. So, by and large she paid her taxes.
BW: How did it come to the point that she would run for governor?
RS: She feels very strongly that prostitution should be legal mostly because of the safety of the girls. This prostitute, Julianna Brisman, did work for Kristin, was murdered by the CraigsList murderer. If she hadn’t been afraid to go to the police, she would be alive.
Kristin wanted to set up a foundation and lobby the legislature and I said, “None of that is going to work. You need to make a splash. Run for governor so you can get attention for your issues.”
If you have an interesting story to tell, you have a rationale for your candidacy. That’s one of the greatest mistakes I see people make in politics: they decide to run for office but they have no rationale for their candidacy. Look at [Florida Governor] Charlie Crist. Hasn’t cut property taxes like he promised, hasn’t cut insurance rates. Now he wants to waltz off to the Senate. He hasn’t finished the job he is in now. “Because I want the job,” is what he means to say. It’s about the aggrandizement of me. Voters see through that right away. If a candidate has no reason for his candidacy, he or she usually does not win votes.
BW: Okay. Following that logic, what about [Senator] Arlen Specter (D-PA) right now? You used to work for him. Does he have a rationale for his candidacy? And what do you think is going to happen to him?
RS: He is a very close friend of mine. I talked to him yesterday. I’m trying to raise some money for him for his very tight primary.
From a practical point of view, going to the Republican primary was certain death. And therefore, he rationalizes his situation by saying, “I’m not prepared to let this narrow swath of voters decide on my whole public record.” He wasn’t willing to let his entire career be decided on by a narrow band of right-wing kooks. I think he’s got a tough road, I don’t know that he’s going to make it or not.
BW: He’s 80 years old. Why doesn’t he retire?
RS: Because there is nothing else in his life. Because he is both physically and mentally sharp, and up to doing the job. Here’s a guy who has had every kind of cancer known to man. He still gets up at 6:30 in the morning and plays squash.
If he were old or tired… well, if he were tired, or didn’t have the energy or mental sharpness, I think he would step down. He still feels he can do the job. He can certainly do the job better than [Republican] Pat Toomey.
RS: I don’t know him well. If you talk to organizational Democrats, they don’t believe he is very stable.
RS: He’s got an erratic personality. He is not well liked by professional Democrats. No one votes for Arlen Specter because they like him. People vote for him because he gets the job done.
BW: What job?
RS: Pennsylvanians. He delivers for his state. He is an indefatigable protector of his state. And frankly he is the father of modern stem cell research. The first hearings, the first funding bill, all Arlen Specter. He almost paid a price for it in the Republican primary.
BW: Can he run as an Independent?
RS: Pennsylvania has a “sore loser’ law. Once you lose a primary, you’re done. The time to run as an Independent was before this. Unlike Connecticut [when Joe Lieberman ran in 2006], Pennsylvania’s very difficult. It was examined, I assure you.
[Specter] liked fighting for a broader, more inclusive Republican party. My conservative friends would go crazy, but the party is poorer for him having gone. I would also say if he lost the primary to Toomey six years ago, he’d already be dead. He lives for public service. He loves the job and he works at it harder than a 35-year-old.
BW: Back to Kristin Davis: New York State is in a huge hole now and creativity to remedy that is appreciated. Whatever Ms. Davis’ stances on these issues, the stigma associated, especially with prostitution, is tough to stomach for most people morally. Most people see selling your body as a last desperate resort and not a top career choice.
RS: Is your goal getting 51% of the vote? Because I can tell you right now for at least 4 million people in the state, those issues are not a stigma. I would invite those people [who don’t feel that way] not to vote for her.
Our goal is 50,000 votes. You need 15,000 to get on the ballot. Which means you have to get 45,000 [to account for vetting].
If you get 50,000 votes in the election, your party becomes permanent [on the ballot]. And it stays on the ballot as long as it continues to get 50,000 votes in each gubernatorial election.
Now if you got her half a million votes, she’d be number three on the ballot. 50,000 votes is victory. 250,000 is a big victory.
Once people realize she is real she is going to scare the crap out of the Democrats… and the Republicans.
BW: Why are you for prostitution, but were against casinos and expanded gambling in the state?
RS: No, she’s for casinos.
BW: No, you personally.
RS: I was against Indian casinos. Indians pay no taxes. Letting anyone have a casino based on the color of their skin I have a problem with. The 1988 Indian Gaming Act says that because they were a sovereign nation, because we stole their land, and shot a bunch of them, we [exempt] them.
I’m against that. Where are the African American casinos? We grabbed those guys in Africa and made them come here against their will and made them slaves. Where’s their redress?
The whole Indian gaming thing is a scam. It doesn’t filter down to individual Indians. It goes to a bunch of crooks at the top. I’m in favor of legalized casino gambling in New York.
BW: Why not push that?
RS: She is going to push that. Let’s get to the general election. The other issues she is running on are better to generate signatures, particularly marijuana. We can both name a half dozen street corner in Chelsea where if you just stood with a clipboard and said sign here for legal marijuana, you’ll have no trouble.
BW: Okay but why are you so passionate about the legalization of prostitution?
RS: The truth is of all her agenda, it’s my least favorite issue. I think it’s necessary as a raison d’être to get her in the race. As you get into the general election, based on polling, I would stress legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and casinos as more plausible. All three of those will happen in my lifetime in New York State. Prostitution, it will happen. We may both be dead.
BW: How would legal prostitution work in practice? It seems even in Amsterdam, where it was legalized in 2000, it is not eliminating problems that we have now. Dutch authorities now fear that this business is out of control: “We’ve realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities,” said Job Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam. How do you respond?
RS: This is really a question that should be posed to Kristin. No one wants this in their neighborhood. You need specific designated areas. The way you avoid all those problems is through strict regulation. It is safer, it is cleaner. You’re not going to get hit in the head and have your wallet stolen, nor are you going to get gonorrhea, nor is the woman going to get murdered by some lunatic who books himself as a John. I think there are a lot of public policy upsides. How exactly you structure it is a debate that has to happen.
BW: The tax revenue argument is amoral. The moral issues remains.
RS: It is the oldest profession on the face of the earth. What are you going to do? Close your eyes and say, “There is no prostitution in New York State, it’s not going on.” It’s going to go on anyway, why not make it safer and fill the public coffers?
BW: Still, if we are talking about the only sort of case study in the world that’s applicable here, it’s been legal in Amsterdam for 10 years. The concerns in Amsterdam were organized crime, money laundering, and human trafficking. They’re still happening.
RS: I have no idea how they regulate it. Campaigns are about big picture ideas. As I’ve told you, of her agenda, I think gay marriage is the most realistic getting done. If marijuana doesn’t pass in California this time, it will next time. And when it does pass there, it will pass here. I think it’s very important that California has placed absolute legalization on the ballot this November. Now no one can say to you, “That’s a crazy idea, no one would ever do that.”
Prostitution is a longer and more difficult process. I would expect her to deemphasize it as we go into the campaign based on opportunity. The great public resistance to her agenda lies in that area. That said, when I polled it [statewide], 38% of New Yorkers would still vote to legalize prostitution. She has plenty of time between now and Election Day to flesh out the specifics of how it could work.
If she can do anything to promote that discussion and move those issues forward, she will have achieved a lot.
BW: Did you use [famed Republican pollster] Frank Luntz for that poll?
RS: Please, I would use a real pollster. Ever notice how he looks like he has a Danish stapled on his head?
Don’t touch that browser! For 2 days. Stay tuned for the rest of my interview with Roger Stone where we cover Nixon and Reagan, the Florida recount, 2012, men’s style, and of course tattoos of heads of state…