The Trumpstad Report: Roger Ailes

Trump hair: Lorie Shaull/Noun Project, mustache: Aldric Rodríguez Iborra/Noun Project

Earlier this month at a Donald Trump rally, Gov. Terry Branstad told the Informer he sympathized with a chant of “lock her up!” that interrupted a speech he gave as he criticized Hillary Clinton. Coming close to echoing statements Trump himself has made that Clinton should be jailed, Branstad said: “Well, she’s lying about so many things. If it were anybody else, they’d probably be in prison right now.” As many GOP leaders abandon Trump over his divisive rhetoric and self-destructing campaign, Branstad and other top Iowa Republicans continue to support him. Introducing The Trumpstad Report, where each week until the election we will highlight one topic on which Trump and Branstad share common ground.

In late July, shortly after news broke of the sexual harassment lawsuit network anchor Gretchen Carlson filed against then-Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, Gov. Terry Branstad shared his thoughts on the matter with reporters gathered at a Republican National Convention breakfast meeting in Cleveland.

“I was disappointed,” Branstad told them, but then added a line similar to one he used when journalists asked him to respond to a racist comment Trump made about a federal judge of Mexican heritage: “I’m not going to place any judgment on this.” The governor went on: “I just know he’s a very talented man that’s done a lot certainly for the conservative movement and building Fox News.”

Before he resigned on the day after Branstad’s presser over a growing number of public allegations — including from Megyn Kelly, the Fox News host Trump suggested was on her period for asking him during a primary debate about sexist comments he’d made about women — Ailes had run his cable news empire since he founded it in October 1996. And before that, Ailes was already a big-time media consultant, advising the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush as well as Rudy Giuliani’s first bid for mayor of New York.

In 1986 and 1990, he also advised Branstad, who traveled to New York to meet Ailes for what he described to reporters at this year’s RNC as “pepper drills” — debate prep exercises Ailes would film as he shot “mean questions” at Branstad before playing back the video recordings, pointing out body language the governor should avoid and accusations directed at him which he shouldn’t repeat. “I learned a lot from him,” said Branstad, who also mentioned that Ailes was the man responsible for his successful 1986 campaign ad, “Junk Bond Junkins,” against Democrat Lowell Junkins.

Now, despite stories of sexual harassment from several women dating back to the 1960s, Ailes is advising Trump, who has for years made sexist remarks about women and has been accused of worse. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that he is prepping Trump for his first general election presidential debate against Clinton, scheduled for Sept. 26 at Long Island’s Hofstra University.

The Trump campaign was quick to deny the report, but the denial’s not particularly convincing. In an interview published today by the Washington Post, Trump biographer Gabriel Sherman described the close relationship the two men share. “Trump and Ailes have known each other for decades,” he said. “They’re friends in the ‘we’re-both-Manhattan-media-power-brokers’ sense. More recently, Ailes helped propel Trump’s unlikely political career by giving him a weekly call-in segment on Fox & Friends. The two lunched shortly before Trump launched his candidacy, and Ailes has given Trump talking points throughout the campaign, people close to both men have told me.” (Sherman later added that Ailes would be remembered for “revolutionizing television news while destroying the Republican Party” through “power and ruthlessness — the black lists; his use of surveillance on employees and adversaries; and the smear campaigns he orchestrated — [which] allowed him to take over the Republican Party and mold it to fit his paranoid worldview.”)

Branstad’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the governor’s association with Ailes or his thoughts on the report that the former Fox News chief is still advising Trump after he resigned in disgrace.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.