Two Seasoned GOP ‘Tricksters’ Feud Over Bachmann

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Political strategists Roger Stone and Ed Rollins go way back. Both have ties to Nixon. Both worked to put Ronald Reagan into the White House in the 1980s. Both worked on Jack Kemp’s failed 1988 presidential bid. And they both got bad press for their involvement with Bob Dole’s 1996 effort. The similarities also extend to style, as they’re both known to be masters of political mischief. But they differ on at least one point: Rollins, recently hired by Rep. Michele Bachmann, presumably thinks he should keep his job, while Stone says that “Bachmann Should Can Rollins Now Or Her Bid Is Doomed.” Is this objective advice, or has the Rollins-Stone relationship gathered some animosity over the years?

Stone tells TIME that he didn’t actually meet Rollins until 1984, and he says he rarely felt like they were working together, even when they were on the same campaign. In his blog post recommending that Bachmann chuck Rollins, Stone bases his assessment on Rollins’ recent remarks disparaging Sarah Palin:

Palin is far from certain to make the 2012 race. Her supporters would be naturally favorable to Bachmann. Aggravating them makes no sense at all. … Bachmann needs to off-load him now.

Stone is not the only one recommending Rollins’ removal following his comments about Palin’s lack of “substance” and failure to be “serious” (though he does take the criticism to a more unforgiving, unequivocal level, calling Rollins a “no-talent,” a “fraud” and a “buffoon” who “hasn’t got the slightest idea how to be nominated for president of the United States.”) Stone is not currently affiliated with any potential candidate, but he informally advised Donald Trump’s presidential flirtations in the past.

“Rollins is more concerned about his own press than his clients’ press,” Stone says. “Political consultants during the campaign should be neither seen nor heard. With Ed, it ends up being about him, and before it’s over, he’ll be attacking Michele Bachmann.” There’s some precedent for Stone’s theory (though history is by no means obligated to repeat itself). After having a difficult time trying to get Florida Rep. Katherine Harris into the Senate, for example, Rollins said that “Katherine is probably the worst micromanager I have ever seen… After a while you say, ‘Why am I putting up with this crap?” And he mocked Harris’ alleged insinuations that God wanted her to be in the race (comments that Bachmann has echoed on the record, saying she’s had a “calling”). Rollins is “affable,” Stone says. “He’s entertaining. But he’s got very bad foot-in-mouth disease.”

Yet Stone’s characterization of Rollins is also reminiscent of a New Yorker profile on Stone himself. In “The Dirty Trickster,” the reporter introduces us to Stone by explaining that he “regularly crossed the line between respectability and ignominy” in his career and that “Over the years, Stone’s relationships with colleagues and clients have been so combustible that his value as a messenger has been compromised.”Stone also has a personal axe to grind. Rollins made what Stone calls “gratuitous shots” against him in his autobiography. “I’m a firm believer that when hit, hit back with twice the velocity,” Stone says. So Stone’s recommendation that Bachmann dump Rollins might be well-intentioned advice, the product bad blood, or some mix of the two.