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Roger Ailes, GOP Mastermind

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Fox News chief Roger Ailes has advised every Republican president since Richard Nixon, and – as Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson details in this profile – he's engineered some of the dirtiest tricks in American political history. Click through for highlights of Ailes' shady – and highly successful – career as a campaign guru.

As a consultant for Richard Nixon, Ailes bypassed journalists who might pose tough questions, creating fake "town hall" events that enabled the candidate to field softball queries from voters handpicked by the campaign. "The events were not staged," says historian Rick Perlstein. "They were fixed." 

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Reagan ’84: The Director

Ailes – a veteran of Reagan’s media team in 1980 who was overseeing the creation of the legendary “Morning in America” campaign – knew that framing one good shot in a debate could make the difference come Election Day. “Roger had the presence to be a director,” says Ed Rollins, who managed the ’84 campaign. “And Reagan, who had always been around directors, would listen to Roger."

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

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Reagan ’84: The Second Reagan-Mondale Debate

Ailes – known on the Reagan team as “Dr. Feelgood” – told the Gipper to ditch the facts and figures. "You didn’t get elected on details," he told the president. "You got elected on themes." He armed Reagan with a one-liner to beat back any question about his mental agility – and the president’s delivery was pitch-perfect. "I want you to understand that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan winked. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience."

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

Courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Bush ’88: The Go-To Man

Ailes became the go-to man on the Bush campaign, especially when it came to taking down the opposition. "In any campaign you have a small table of inside advisers," says Mary Matalin, the GOP consultant. "Roger always had the clearest vision. The most robust, synthesized, advanced thinking on things political. When you came to a strategy impasse, he’d be the first among equals. I can’t remember a single incident where he lost a fight."

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

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Bush ’88: The Willie Horton Revolving Door Ad

Ailes' dirtiest move came during the general election – a TV ad centering on Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who had  escaped from a Massachusetts prison during a weekend furlough when Michael Dukakis was governor and later assaulted a couple, stabbing the man and raping the woman. “The only question,” Ailes bragged to a reporter, “is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand – or without it.”

Knowing that such an overt move could backfire on the campaign, Ailes instead opted to evoke Horton by showing a line of convicts entering and exiting a prison through a revolving door of prison bars.

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

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Bush ’00: Fox Calls It

The man Ailes put in charge of calling states on election night was John Prescott Ellis - George W. Bush's first cousin. His premature call for Bush spurred every other network to follow suit. "Of everything that happened on election night," said Rep. Henry Waxman, "this was the most important in impact."

Read: How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory