On the subject of Roger Ailes, the Donald Trump campaign's official story is — like so many of the candidate's positions — somewhat less than consistent.
Asked on "Meet the Press" last month whether the former Fox News chairman is an adviser, Trump said, "I don't want to comment" — then proceeded to comment at length about what a "talented" and "very good" person Ailes is, adding that "a lot of people are thinking he's going to run my campaign." The Republican presidential nominee sure seemed to be hinting at a role for Ailes but wouldn't confirm anything.
When the New York Times reported two weeks ago that Ailes is helping Trump prepare for the general election debates, both sides issued flat denials. Yet their statements seemed to come with a wink: Pro-Trump Breitbart News — whose executive chairman, Steve Bannon, was named the Trump campaign's chief executive the next day — went with the story.
Now, CBS News reports that Ailes participated in a debate prep session Sunday. If the TV titan is assisting Trump, why so cagey? Why wouldn't the two men just say they are working together?
A few explanations come to mind.
These are media-savvy men who understand that restricting information keeps the press interested. Trump is highly visible, to be sure, but not because he is always forthcoming. In fact, Trump commands news cycle after news cycle by sending journalists on prolonged chases after everything from his tax returns to his immigration policy. Lack of clarity is a point of pride for the real estate mogul.
So, is Ailes, a former aide to Richard Nixon, advising Trump? It's just one more question for the media to ponder while giving Trump more attention. Confirming a relationship would kill the intrigue.
Another possible reason is that denying basic, factual truths is just a thing Trump does. It doesn't even have to be bad stuff, necessarily. He just seems to get a kick out of telling journalists that their accurate reporting is actually wrong. Former Page Six editor Susan Mulcahy described this habit in Politico Magazine in April:
I once received a tip that Trump and Richard Nixon had had a lengthy meeting in Trump’s office. Trump said he knew nothing about it. I ran the story, not only because I had an excellent source, but also because a Nixon aide confirmed it. Nixon, who was shopping for a condo the day he met with Trump, may have had issues with credibility in his time, but over Trump, I’d have believed him any day. Trump was such a pretender he even used to fake being his own spokesman, as I learned recently, though I never heard from the faux flack he called John Barron. My Trump items came from all over the place — never Trump himself — and when I called to check on something, he usually lied to me directly.
Denying facts was almost a sport for Trump, and extended even to mundane matters. While still married to his first wife, Ivana, Trump bought a mansion in Connecticut, and she decorated parts of it. Not the most earth-shattering news, but hey, everyone has slow days. When I called to confirm the purchase, Trump denied it, more than once. Sure enough, before long, he was spending weekends in the mansion, parts of which were decorated by Ivana. Did he think twice about such a seemingly pointless lie? Why would he?
It's also worth considering the possibility that Ailes is the one who wants to keep his work for Trump — however informal — on the down-low. On one hand, we know that Ailes has been friendly with Trump for 30 years, as he told Adweek last fall, and he is newly unemployed. Who would object to his helping an old pal in his suddenly plentiful spare time?
On the other hand, Ailes's jumping aboard the Trump Train could tarnish the accolades he and Fox News received early in the GOP primary for tough coverage. When Trump wanted Megyn Kelly removed as moderator of the second Republican debate sponsored by Fox News, Ailes kept his anchor in place as the human ratings machine boycotted.
Was it all an act? Was Ailes really on Trump's side all along? He might prefer not to invite such questions by publicly attaching himself to the candidate he was praised for standing up to.
At first glance, it seems silly for Trump and Ailes to be so secretive. But the closer you look, the more it makes sense.