Despite widespread counternarrative, decades of careful political machinations laid crucial groundwork for Donald Trump’s election.
Donald Trump’s ubiquitous portrayal as a renegade outsider, beholden to no political party or established decorum, might be the most unacknowledged fake news item of the past two years. Despite a lack of name recognition — or perhaps precisely because of their anonymity — the various forces working to install a President Trump have been actively pursuing their goals for a very long time.
Gears of this machine were turning years before Trump declared his 2016 candidacy, no matter what the Donald is saying to the contrary these days. All the major players were settling into their roles not only long before recent public awareness heated up, but well into the last millenium.
What we’re ultimately trying to sift out from the election wreckage is: What exactly happened? If everything was completely legal, why was that the case? If it wasn’t, are there repercussions?
Actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In fact, let’s rewind a few decades.
Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who was attempting to win back the White House after 8 years of Ronald “Win One Proxy War for the Gipper” Reagan, had his underperforming campaign derailed by a TV advertisement paid for by a political action committee (PAC). Titled “Weekend Passes”, but colloquially known as the ‘Willie Horton ad’, it painted Dukakis as having shared responsibility for heinous crimes committed by a convicted murderer who’d run away while out on weekend furlough from a life sentence in prison.
Dukakis had endorsed but not initiated the furlough program while serving as governor of Massachusetts, but the facts became irrelevant in the wake of such a shocking true crime storyline. The discussion surrounding the accusations had been percolating for a few months prior to the TV ad’s debut on 22 Sept ’88, but controversy then erupted and dominated chatter straight through the election.
George H.W. Bush — the Republican nominee, sitting Vice President, former CIA chief, and staunch death penalty advocate — had begun to hype the Horton tale that summer, after taking a cue from Al Gore’s criticism of the furlough program during the Democratic primaries. Bush’s opposition research team then zeroed in on Horton as an excellent chance to play up racist fears and hammer Dukakis’s ‘soft’ Massachusetts liberalism.
Bush’s campaign team was led by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, both of whom were known for their no-holds-barred electioneering & media manipulation tactics. Atwater had been senior partner since 1984 at Black, Manafort, Stone, and Atwater, PR sister to the lobbying firm first co-founded during Reagan’s 1980 candidacy by longtime Trump allies Paul Manafort and Roger Stone; he was also a firm believer in playing the electoral race card by proxy as part of the new Southern Strategy. Ailes was a high-profile GOP strategist who had pioneered the concept of politicians as saleable products, and who’d later become ex-CEO, founder, and alleged serial sex fiend of Fox News.
Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Lee Atwater in 1985 (Getty)
Ailes latched on to the Horton angle, running focus groups in May ’88 which found ‘Reagan Democrats’ responded very well to its inherent negativity, with many test subjects completely turning against Dukakis after hearing some choice accusations. Smelling blood, Atwater boasted to GOP brass, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Ailes agreed, saying: “The only question is whether we show Willie Horton with a knife in his hand, or without.”
Bush then began acting on those focus group results by first mentioning furloughs during the June ’88 Texas Republican convention, after which his poll numbers finally started to climb past those of then-frontrunner Dukakis. Traditionalist-leaning Readers Digest conveniently published a Horton article in July titled “Getting Away With Murder,” which the Bush campaign reprinted for its own mass distribution. Bush continued to highlight the angle that summer, even going so far as to reference it during his Republican National Convention (RNC) nomination acceptance speech in August.
Ailes and Atwater would go on to create a followup ad for the official Bush campaign known as “Revolving Door”, which effectively replaced the Willie Horton ad after an abbreviated 2-week TV run, debuting it on 5 Oct 1988. Horton wasn’t named or shown, but actors were depicted as ‘scary criminals’ going in & out of prison all willy-nilly. Both of these ads led to extensive media coverage of the ads themselves, remarkably, with the major TV networks’ nightly newscasts frequently discussing them during October and November.
The first Willie Horton attack ad is credited to media hitman Larry McCarthy, working on behalf of the Americans for Bush (aka AmBush) offshoot of the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC). McCarthy had spent the previous seven years working as a senior executive for Ailes Communications, creating ads for his mentor Roger Ailes while assisting a number of high-profile GOP candidates throughout the 80s.
Another former Ailes employee involved in the ad production was Floyd Brown, who was serving as president of Americans for Bush at the time, though he is widely acknowledged as the true mastermind behind both ads. In fact, official complaints were filed after the election alleging illegal collusion between the Bush campaign and AmBush/NSPAC.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigated the allegations, but despite evidence of communication between the organizations, the FEC commissioners deadlocked 3 to 3 on reaching an official decision. Therefore, no punishment was disbursed and no rule advisories were made. PR incubus Roger Stone has since claimed Atwater showed off the “Weekend Passes” tape to him, prior to handing it off to NSPAC for distribution.
Also after the election, in November 1988, an AmBush-invigorated Floyd Brown decided to strike out on his own — with a dollop of financial help from the Koch brothers — and start a new political “nonprofit”, bearing a name you might recognize: Citizens United.
As the Bush 41 presidency was gearing up for its reelection campaign, Citizens United was preparing for its first. That election cycle saw Brown bring aboard David Bossie as ‘chief researcher’ & director of political affairs, but he would become the key member of the organization throughout the following 25 years. Bossie had cut his teeth at Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute from 1988–90, but he lucked into his true calling in 1992 when Bill Clinton skyrocketed to fame.
Starting in early ’92, Brown & Bossie (really the only 2 people at Citizens in those days) went hard after Clinton, beginning with an investigation into his affair with Gennifer Flowers. Citizens set up a 1–900 hotline phone number which purported to play exclusive recordings of Flowers and Clinton’s conversations for $4.99/minute, though the tapes were in fact fraudulently manipulated & doctored. They would also go on to publish the weekly gossip newsletter Clintonwatch, which was regularly sent to over 1,200 journalists.
Bossie also managed to get into a fistfight in Little Rock, Arkansas — while boarding a flight inside an airport — because he refused to pay a private investigator named Larry Case, who was hired to dig up dirt on Roger Clinton, Bill’s wayward brother. Case was representing the [somehow unrelated to CU] organization he co-founded, Citizens for Honest Government, which had originally drummed up the Flowers allegations and would go on to produce the popular direct-mail attack DVD Clinton Chronicles, promoted and distributed by Reverend Jerry Falwell.
After ‘leaking’ allegations to 30 major news bureaus in April, Bossie repeatedly contacted & stalked the family of a long-dead suicide victim for “confirmation” of an affair with Bill Clinton. In July, he followed the late woman’s mother to a hospital, where her husband was seriously ill and recovering from a stroke, and then “burst into the sick man’s room and began questioning the shaken mother about her daughter’s suicide.”
Though none of this negative publicity was ultimately able to derail Clinton’s campaign, two other challengers stirred up intrigue during the ’92 election.
Former Reagan administration Director of Communications Pat Buchanan spent a great deal of time attacking the Clintons (and the rest of the time hyping his tagline of “America First, Second and Third”), often using the same talking points Citizens United were attempting to disseminate, and he was nearly able to defeat Bush in the key New Hampshire primary. He ended up fading away, but his infamously religio-nativist “culture war” speech at the August RNC event focused on his personal feelings of disgust for Hillary Clinton. (Note that Hillary was only yet known as a spouse, not a politician.)
Ross Perot ran as an Independent and was a surprisingly strong contender for a short period of time after he joined the race in May. In early June, Perot led the national public opinion polls with support from 39% of the voters (versus 31% for Bush and 25% for Clinton). His numbers started to slip before he suddenly dropped out of the race in July, only to rejoin the fray in October.
Perot’s explanation for his midsummer’s disappearance was that he’d been blackmailed by what he thought were third-party affiliates of the Bush campaign, an accusation which included the familiar-sounding claim that POTUS Bush was having his CIA friends employ “dirty tricks” of wiretapping Perot’s phone lines and installing viruses on his computers.
Based on what we know about Bossie & Brown’s behaviors that year, it’s a little surprising we can find no news reports exploring any potential links between Citizens and Buchanan, nor any items being anything less than spitefully condescending toward Perot and the possibility that his paranoia might be based on true events.
In fact, the only major player to call out Bossie’s behavior that year was President Bush, who disavowed Citizens’ “filthy campaign tactics” during 1992 — with his son Dubya denouncing the team in a letter to supporters asking them not to donate to Citizens — and even filed a complaint with the FEC in April ’92. To his rare credit, Bush publicly took issue with the wildly unethical methods of Citizens United, particularly in regard to the Flowers hotline and stalking incidents.
So that makes two elections in a row with major FEC complaints filed against the media manipulations of Floyd Brown (with help from his protege David Bossie), and yet no punishment was doled out. Howa bout that.
David Bossie stayed in the thick of political dealings during the 1990s, serving as a key personal aide with the Senate Whitewater Committee and later as chief investigator on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, which was devoted to unearthing campaign finance crimes of POTUS Clinton.
Bossie made many enemies when he did things like urge his boss to reenact the death of former White House deputy counsel Vince Foster — officially ruled a suicide but an ongoing obsession of “Clinton crazies” & Whitewatergaters — by shooting bullets into a melon in the backyard of the congressman’s home. He repeatedly leaked incendiary conspiracy theories to all-too-willing reporters, drawing the ire of his colleagues, but he finally ended up being fired in 1998 for [again] falsifying key evidence.
A frequent boast of Bossie’s was that he had major news media wrapped around his finger, using his dozens of pitched New York Times articles as examples. That power evidently didn’t satiate him, as Bossie caught the film bug and edited a video to fraudulently implicate Hillary Clinton in a crime, prompting then-Speaker Newt Gingrich —who resigned under GOP fire six months later — to demand Bossie’s resignation and unleash a tirade stating “the circus” that was the Oversight Committee should feel “embarrassed”.
Bossie took over as president of Citizens United in 2000 but laid reasonably low for the next few years, continuing to establish several activist ‘nonprofits’ under the CU banner. He popped back into the spotlight in 2004 to file his own complaint with the FEC, by which he’d attempted to get Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 blocked from public showings within 60 days prior to Election Day. His plan failed, as the FEC found Fahrenheit to not be “electioneering communications,” and therefore not subject to FEC oversight.
That decision must have haunted Bossie, for he filed another FEC complaint in 2007, this time because the new multimillion-dollar-budget Citizens United Productions hitpiece Hillary: The Movie was blocked from cable TV & paid public airings within 30 days prior to the January 2008 primaries. In this instance the FEC found Citizens’ first big film to indeed be biased electioneering communications, and upheld the ‘ban’ based on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, commonly referred to as ‘McCain-Feingold’.
Lincoln Club of Orange County presents… “Literally Nuclear Holocaust”
The BCRA had been the culmination of an extremely long fight over campaign finance reform, which extended back further than the initial creation of the FEC in 1974, even back to the seminal Tillman Act of 1907. Most modern US campaign finance laws were defined in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, with subsequent amendments leading to the establishment of the FEC. Further changes throughout the ’70s chipped away at those laws, easing restrictions on outside money and political ads.
Though advertisements, ‘soft money’, and nonprofits/PACs were certainly nothing new in 1988 — as Roger Ailes, former Nixon media aide & breakout star of bestseller The Selling of the President 1968 can attest — the ‘Willie Horton ad’ series of events had pried open a floodgate. Eyes were opened to that sea change when Citizens United blew the gates wide in 1992, but Bush 41 vetoed a reform bill before he left office. BCRA was originally set to launch in 1995, but struggled through seven years of DC infighting before it finally passed in 2002. McCain-Feingold’s fiercest opponent during those years had been majority whip Mitch McConnell, who then immediately mounted his own Supreme Court challenge against the new laws.
The BCRA mandated that clear electioneering communications and issue advocacy ads for federal candidates without disclaimers — focusing on political topics, as opposed to blatant demands for votes — could not be aired within 30 days of a primary vote, nor within 60 days of a general election. Had the BCRA existed in 1988, these regulations could have rendered illegal the late September debut airing of the Willie Horton ad.
Just as in the ’70s, the regulations were chipped away through a series of Supreme Court cases, but it was Bossie et al’s dogged pursuit of Citizens United v FEC case that struck a crushing blow. Argued in front of the Supreme Court twice in 2009, which is unusual, 21 January 2010 saw the Court strike down key provisions of BCRA related to electioneering communications.
Citizens’ lawyer during that time was Ted Olson, who was legal counsel for Ronald Reagan during his defense against Iran-Contra allegations; assisted Paula Jones, a Bill Clinton accuser; represented Bush in 2004’s Bush v Gore, for which he would be rewarded with a Solicitor General appointment; and went on to work for Hobby Lobby, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Ryan, and Tom Brady.
❤ Bossie is a hugger ❤
Olson successfully argued — with help from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia’s leading interrogation — for what amounted to near-total elimination of regulations defining issue advocacy electioneering communications and [protected/free] corporate speech. This occurred despite the dissenting Court opinion, which proclaimed the 5–4 decision and its cited precedent to be “not a correct statement of the law.”
A large majority of the attention the case has publicly received focuses on the idea that it resulted in the establishment of something to the effect of: ‘corporations are people, too, so they have a right to freedom of speech, and money is a form of speech, which means corporations are now free to speak as loudly as they want via PACs & now SuperPACs.’ That interpretation is not wrong, but what gets lost at the end of that translation is the true ultimate mechanism of the $peechbuck$: media & advertising.
Campaigns need money to rent hotels and pay travel expenses, but the largest disbursements of funds are almost always related to advertising. Things like banners, buttons, signs, and especially mass media communications are the tools used to amplify ‘speech’. Third party political advocacy previously had clearly outlined limitations, but in Citizens the Court decided that the previous bar of defining “electioneering communications” was too unwieldy.
Buckley v Valeo in 1976 had established the “eight magic words” which defined political advocacy were: “vote for; vote against; elect; support; cast your ballot for; [Smith] for [Congress]; defeat; reject,” or any variations thereof. Disseminated media — meaning created content such as film, print, audio, etc. — which did not contain those words was largely exempt from campaign finance laws.
In Citizens, those ‘eight magic words’ were thrown out, as the Court said they violated the First Amendment right to free speech; the Roberts Court also declared that a corporation, if considered as a group of people which collectively holds the same rights as a “person”, would also be entitled to that right. With that list of clearly defined linguistic restrictions no longer in place, the Court simultaneously proclaimed that the effort required to parse out the intent of all suspect pieces of media would be too great a burden for the federal government. As a result, nearly all unofficial media is exempt from campaign finance laws, which means the soft money (“independent expenditure” and 3rd-party sourcing) used to produce the media is also exempt from campaign finance laws.
The logic of that decision seems to be a self-contained feedback loop, where corporations — nonprofit, such as the plaintiff Citizens United, and for-profit, for no apparent reason — were magically granted the common human right of free speech, but only as a means to anoint them with an entitlement to totally unfettered freedom to purchase infinite levels of amplification to broadcast that speech. Only the wealthy can afford exorbitant advertising costs.
To that end, the popular adage of “corporations are people, too” was one result, though tweaking the tagline to ‘corporate personhood mandates deregulation of the dissemination of obscenely expensive political advertising & propaganda’ could perhaps provide a stronger vector of situational awareness. Unfortunately, our version doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, plus superficial imagery dictates optimum virality.
With these newly opened doors to political speech-via-media, unregulated issue advocacy using independent expenditures became a wide-open battleground. Suddenly, something like Hillary: The Movie could be engineered to target voters with no funding, calendar, or content restrictions. Bossie’s efforts to accomplish this feat did not go unnoticed during the case’s journey up the ladder to the Supreme Court, and in 2008 he had already started making some new best friends.
First to the party was chronic gatecrasher and Hollywood reject Steve Bannon.
Bannon & that ducks guy ❤ Bossie
Bannon had joined up with and violently commandeered a variety of projects since quitting the Navy and Goldman Sachs, including his implosion of climate research project Biosphere 2; a soap opera at a World of Warcraft videogame-gold-mining operation; and horning in on Saudi investment deals.
He’d managed to broker the deal for TV syndication of Seinfeld, as well as secure executive producer credits on 2 movies in the ’90s and buy out indie film distributor Wellspring Media, but he and his longtime writing partner had failed to get even one of their own original projects made during their 18 years together; not even their gory, sexy space opera about intergalactic “beings of light”, based on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, nor their rap musical based on the Bard’s Coriolanus.
Looking to finally do something successful and not stolen, Bannon had self-funded his first and then-only movie in 2004, a love letter to Ronald Reagan based on a book by Peter Schweizer (so, mostly not stolen). It was at the L.A. premiere of that film where Bannon met Andrew Breitbart, who was then working with the highly influential conservative news aggregator The Drudge Report, striking a friendship that would soon see Bannon joining Breitbart’s eponymous new media startup on the explosively blossoming “internet” (keep in mind 2004 was the year thefacebook.com launched on college campuses, before opening up to the public and becoming Facebook the following year).
Speaking of the Gipper, however, Bannon certainly took interest in the fact that Bossie had also produced a separate Reagan movie via Citizens in 2008. The video was hosted by Newt Gingrich, who must’ve had a change of heart after being “embarrassed” a decade earlier by Bossie’s House Oversight Committee falsifications.
After he and Bossie met in 2008, Citizens United Productions would go on to produce Bannon’s next 3 ‘films’ and another 3 over the following few years, comprising the lion’s share of the company’s output. All of their collaborations were exactly the sort of issue advocacy affected by the Citizens United v FEC decision, all attacked Democrats & the Left, all were expensive propaganda pieces paid for by dark money, and all were released in election years: 2010, 2012, and 2016.
All 6 Bannon-Bossie joints
Soon after Bossie came into his life, Bannon’s writing partner Julia Jones said his political views took a dark turn. Jones stopped working with Bannon in 2009 because he had become so fixated on the destruction of left-wing politics and the eradication of poor people. Though Bannon had been meandering down that road for years, Jones has said she blames Bossie for the final twisted transformation.
Another new fan of Bossie’s was Steve Wynn, the hotel and casino magnate. Wynn noticed Bossie’s brash style and his success with the final Court ruling, so Wynn passed along his admiration to his dear frenemy, Donald J. Trump. Bossie and Trump ending up meeting in early 2010, around the same time as Bannon & Bossie released their first feature together, Generation Zero, which blamed baby boomers’ pinko liberalism for the 2008 financial debacle.
Trump’s long-standing friendship with the Clintons — extending to wedding attendances, political donations, golf outings, and island hoppings — was possibly a point of contention between he and Bossie, but they did agree on a shared mutual dislike of Barack Obama.
Fox ❤s Bossie
After it became clear Obama was going to secure the 2008 nomination, Bossie had pivoted from the litigation-pending Hillary: The Movie to a Citizens joint called Hype: The Obama Effect, which was somehow released less than two months before Election Day. Not only did it appear in small cinemas, but Citizens spent over a million dollars to insert 1,250,000 DVD copies into newspapers across the USA within a week of the election. Hype appears to compare Obama to Hitler by echoing scenes from Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films, which Bossie confirmed was intentional. “There are no accidents in this film,” he said.
Floyd Brown, founder of Citizens United, also managed to engineer continued mainstream news coverage of accusations stating Obama was a foreign-born Muslim. Demands for publicly released copies of Obama’s birth certificate had made headlines since at least 2007, but it’s easy to imagine Bossie was a prime influencer prior to Trump’s sudden assault on Obama in March/April 2011. For six weeks, Trump climbed up on every soapbox he could find in order to spread the “birther” angle, until Obama finally did release a copy in late April. Obama then went on to roast Trump to his face at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner mere days later, eliciting white-hot Donaldian rage.
Trump ❤s Bossie
It was widely assumed that Trump was attempting to leverage his birtherism rhetoric into a run at the 2012 GOP nomination — though any speculation was taken with a large grain of salt, after his many false starts over the previous several elections — so it should be unsurprising that he had been consulting with the professional conspiracist Bossie during this time, and that Bossie was the one to first introduce Trump & Bannon. Despite Trump’s recent claim that he didn’t know Bannon until late in the 2016 campaign, the first time they worked together was in fact early 2011.
According to Bossie, the three of them quickly started drafting the image of a potential Trump presidential campaign and “how to build this thing out.” Those plans were formally paused a few weeks after Obama’s roasting landed a hard ego uppercut and showed he would be unbeatable in 2012, but Donald, David, and Steve continued to conspire & plot in the shadows.
Behind the scenes and from multiple angles of attack, everything was quietly being forced into place.
Follow TEXTIFIRE to trace this saga’s transition into the digital age…