Excerpted from Roger Stones new book: The Making of the President.
On July 23, 2015, the Guardian in London reported that Putin’s approval ratings were at record high levels, with 9 out 10 Russians approving of their president in a poll that highlighted support for Putin’s strategy of invading Crimea and Ukraine. On July 30, 2015, while he was attending the British Open, Trump said at a press conference that he would have no problem working with Putin. “I think I would get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so. People say, ‘What do you mean?’ I think I would get along well with him,” Trump, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, told a reporter. “He [Putin] hates Obama, Obama hates him. We have unbelievably bad relationships. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. She was the worst Secretary of State in the history of our country. The world blew apart during her reign. Now she wants to be president.”
Throughout 2015 and 2016, the New York Times fanned the flames, building Trump’s initial controversial remarks into a theory Trump and Putin were working behind the scenes in a secret conspiracy to defeat Hillary Clinton.
In a press conference held a year later, in Doral, Florida, on July 27, 2016, Trump said he hoped the Russian intelligence services would release Hillary Clinton’s emails that the Democrats were claiming the Russians had hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said in an apparent reference to Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” The New York Times article reporting on the Doral press conference led with the following paragraph: “Donald J. Trump on Wednesday said he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyber-espionage against a former Secretary of State.”
This theme developed into a “meme,” or narrative, Hillary supporters used throughout the campaign to attack Trump by claiming Trump was working in coordination with Russia to the detriment of US national security interests. At the end of the campaign, the Democratic meme morphed into the narrative pushed by far-left supporters of Hillary Clinton that Trump won because Russia supplied “fake news” churned by “alt-right” reporters, including Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, Alex Jones of Infowars.com, a staff of reporters at Breitbart.com and WND.com with campaign coverage led by Jerome Corsi. Milo Yianoppolous of Breitbart captured the imagination of millions of millennial voters drawn to his outrageous assault, confronting the far-left as an unabashed conservative homosexual who continued to beat the mainstream media to the punch with big scoops and provocative content. Trump’s message, each time I appeared on Alex Jones, reached more people than it ever did on Fox News prime time because Jones’ online army turns in a monstrous following.
The 2016 presidential campaign was the first to be fought and won on the Internet. Donald Trump mastered the art of dominating the news cycle simply by posting a Tweet that was so outrageously compelling that it went viral the moment it was posted. The journalists at Drudge, Alex Jones, Breitbart and WND plus radio talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage with their enormously large and loyal national radio audiences, plus Sean Hannity almost alone on Fox News for his unwavering support of Trump, were the backbone of the alternative media support Trump received from the beginning of his campaign. Trump voters in Middle America in 2016 turned off MSNBC and CNN—some even turning off Fox News itself—as most established radio and television news personalities persisted in questioning Trump, if not outright ridiculing his candidacy.
While many other conservative websites and reporters contributed, Drudge led the charge, posting a top center headline and photograph on June 16, 2015, the day Trump declared his candidacy, proclaiming “Donald Goes for White House.” Increasingly as the campaign progressed, the real action was not in the traditional mainstream media or in the polls, both of which were badly biased in favor of Clinton.
In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, the widely read economics blog ZeroHedge.com posted an article headlined, “How Matt Drudge Won the 2016 Election.” The article noted that the news aggregation site Drudge.com spent much of the 18 months leading to the general election highlighting polls and stories that predicted a Trump win. “In an election cycle when just about everyone got it wrong, Matt Drudge ended up vindicated,” the ZeroHedge.com article noted. “The editor of the massive, conservative news aggregation site spent much of the last 18 months leading with those rare polls and stories that predicted a Trump victory—meanwhile the Huffington Post, sometimes called Drudge’s liberal mirror, gave Hillary Clinton a 90-something percent chance of winning just hours before the polls started closing.”
A much more accurate measure of how completely Trump was resonating with what Richard Nixon called “the Silent Majority” was the strong support Trump received on social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. In all of 2016, Trump dominated the non-scientific immediate online polls, with thousands scoring him the victor. To counter this populist support, the Clinton campaign, like the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012, hired surrogates, commonly called “trolls” or “bots,” as in “robots,” to post disinformation deemed favorable to Hillary to complicate Internet threads on social media websites trending favorable to Trump. But even later, when scientifically conducted polls produced contrary results, showing Trump had actually lost a particular debate, it didn’t matter. What mattered was the hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters self-motivated to go on-line the minute the debate ended to register their vote that Trump had won. Hillary, even after her paid trolls got involved, never received or deserved that type of online voter action.
What Clinton supporters in the mainstream media failed to understand was that in creating controversy, Trump was following a basic principle known to professional political operatives and campaign advisors—namely, dominate the media, even if what the media is saying about you is negative. Clearly, Trump’s controversial statements about Mexico, McCain, and Putin hurt him among the bi-coastal elite appalled, for example, that Trump dare speak negatively about illegal immigrants, aliens among us that the elite preferred to call “non-documented guest workers.” Unlike McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008 after reprimanding radio hosts for daring to mention that Barack Obama’s middle name was Hussein, for fear of insulting Muslims, Trump shot from the hip. While Obama had imposed sanctions on Russia in an attempt to get Russia to pull out of Ukraine, Trump praised Putin’s ability to direct an aggressive, but successful military strategy—something President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to do in the Middle East.
The point is that during the summer of 2015, every cable news station and every nighttime network news program broadcast by NBC, ABC, and CBS was preoccupied with stories discussing Trump. It was possible in July 2015 to flip channels and find every news station on cable or satellite television discussing Trump at the same time.
Granted, most of the coverage, even on Fox News, was negative—in the case of Fox News because the network appeared to have imposed a bias in favor of GOP establishment candidates, like Jeb Bush, who were supported by Republican leaders in New York and Washington. What seemed clear in the summer of 2015 was that the bi-coastal mainstream media heavily favored Hillary to win, even to the point of suppressing bad news that might negatively impact Hillary’s candidacy, while promoting any news that might cause Trump trouble.
But the point, which should have been obvious to all experienced political operatives, was that Trump had managed to dominate all news coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. Whether the audience loved or hated Trump, the only thing the American public wanted to talk about during the summer of 2015 was Trump. The news dominance Trump was commanding was rivaled in modern times only by the sensation Barack Obama caused when he first came on the national scene.