Tuesday’s top Drudge Report headline, “Roger Stone: Trump Will Not Run for Re-Election,” was hardly a new revelation from President Trump’s longtime friend, associate, and political adviser who is also a media magnet.
Not new because a quick Google search reveals that starting in May 2018 (and for months earlier, speaking confidentially to friends) Stone publicly stated words to the effect that Trump will (or might) declare victory and not run in 2020.
For example, back in September, Gabriel Sherman’s widely reported Vanity Fair piece about the Trump 2020 campaign quoted Stone saying, “He could just decide, ‘I’ve made America great again. I’ve kept all my promises. Now I’m gonna play golf.’”
That prior reporting raises a question: Why did Drudge, the go-to mega-influential conservative media aggregator, choose to spotlight Stone’s well-known speculation at this time?
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I emailed that query to the notoriously private Matt Drudge but have yet to receive a reply. In the meantime, there are several layers to unpack about the timing, source, and content of the headline.
First, the quote from Stone was positioned in the upper-left corner, initially in red type, which always signifies “breaking news” to regular Drudge readers. But, since variations of the quote have previously and frequently appeared in the mainstream media, it hardly warrants such prominent placement.
Second, Drudge’s headline linked to an interview in Spectator USA that was headlined “Roger Stone: I’m innocent – and I wouldn’t take a deal if Mueller offered one” – a statement not remotely resembling the one on Drudge’s front page.
Third, Spectator USA’s interview was long, practically all about the Robert Mueller/WikiLeaks controversy, and Stone’s re-election remarks appear near the end, almost as an “oh, by the way” postscript.
On Tuesday afternoon, I texted Stone asking about the Drudge headline. He immediately replied, “What are u talking about?” In other words, even Stone was surprised that his well-known 2020 political speculation has been given high-profile placement.
Fourth, though Matt Drudge’s real motives for posting Stone’s quote are unknown, one can surmise that if Trump decided not to run for re-election, it would be among the biggest political news stories of the century, rivaling Trump’s 2016 victory. In other words, it would be great for business.
Furthermore, is Drudge paving the way for Trump to make that decision by softening the blow while hoping to break the story if (a big if) and when it happens?
Now back to reality.
All signs point to Trump running again. But (and that’s a big but), if not, we can all understand why he might make that decision. Starting in January, there will be at least two years of continuous hell for the president and his administration. Democrats, in control of the House, will be out for blood and revenge while Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller wraps up his report.
Along with those pressures from the Democrats and Mueller, Stone’s Spectator USA quotes have merit because, whatever one thinks of this veteran GOP operator, he knows politics and understands Trump. He believes that Trump likes “the adulation part” of being president but not the actual governing. And: “He doesn’t like the fact that half the people in the country hate his guts. He’s hypersensitive to criticism.”
Stone says his opinion does not come from being in possession of inside information. In this case, it’s a judgment that comes from knowing Donald Trump for some 40 years.
The last time a president voluntarily chose not to run for re-election was Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1968. Amazingly, LBJ made his announcement on March 31, just seven months before Election Day. Surely, Trump would be more considerate to his party and broadcast his earth-shattering decision at least a year and a half before November 2020 – that is, by June 2019.
Finally, I will apply my favorite political idioms — “Anything is possible” and “Always expect the unexpected” — to a very Trumpian scenario:
On June 16, 2019 – four years to the day after he rode the Trump Tower escalator down to his presidential announcement – the president takes another historic ride and announces what Stone has long speculated, “I made America great. Mike, good luck.”
I repeat, “anything is possible” – because the next six months are going to test Trump like he has never been tested in his entire life.
Cross posted at RealClear Politics