Ailes’s involvement in Trump’s campaign was a story even before Ailes was fired from Fox News for decades of alleged sexual harassment. It was yet another disqualifying attribute of Trump’s campaign—another example of Trump’s deep-seated misogyny—but it was also widely treated as Trump’s ace in the hole. Ailes scripted Nixon’s “New Nixon” strategy in 1968 and saved Reagan in 1984, feeding him the famous line, “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Ailes was reportedly advising Trump specifically on his debate performance and if anyone could make Trump disciplined, it would be Ailes. As CNN reported earlier this month, Ailes was playing Henry Higgins to Trump’s Eliza Doolittle:
Ailes’s main objective is to sharpen Trump’s message. He is trying to help the candidate get his message out in a smart, cogent way while also maintaining his air of authenticity, one source familiar with the conversations said. He is also trying to help Trump come up with memorable one-liners that will stay in voters’ minds, drive headlines, and perhaps even turn the tide in Trump’s favor.
Let’s take these point by point. Trump’s message, whatever you may think of it, is mostly pretty sharp: He uses border security as a catch-all to explain crime, terrorism, and the economy. Last night, Trump started sort of sharp—all the mentions of China and Mexico in the first ten minutes—but then completely fell apart. He had no message.
As for smart and cogent? Well, the more or less non-stop ranting was neither. Trump had one good line—his comment about Clinton having had 30 years to figure out the country’s problems—but mostly he returned again and again to the same tactic: interrupting Clinton with the word “wrong.” One of Clinton’s most salient messages was that Trump was a sexist bully whose temperament made him unfit for the office and he proved it for her over and over. As for the headlines, well, they’re mostly about how Trump got trounced.
In 2016, Roger Ailes has been exposed over and over again as a lying, sexist fraud. The first debate was icing on the cake.