The late GOP hitman Lee Atwater craved the spotlight: His infamous antics gave rise to the must-watch documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.
Roger Ailes, by contrast, liked to lurk in the wings, even as an above-board consultant. “He understands the first rule of a political operative,” Roger Stone (himself a noted Republican trickster) told me in an interview, “which is don’t upstage your client. Good political operatives stay in the background. I always thought Atwater was too out front.”
Despite their contrasting styles, the reed-thin Atwater and the elephantine Ailes were joined at the hip on the 1988 George H.W. Bush campaign. Atwater was, in name, the campaign manager. But Ailes, according to fellow consultant Mary Matalin, was “first among equals.”
Following Bush’s victory, Atwater reflected on Ailes’ contributions to the effort.
Lee Atwater: I have been in politics for quite a while, and I have worked with everybody in our business…. He simply is the best. Roger and I are soul brothers of sorts in terms of our approach to a campaign. We believe really in two things. One is the importance of staying on the offense, and the other is the importance of controlling the agenda…. My attitude was that when you’re working with people like… Roger Ailes — who, frankly, were masters of this game when I was still a teenage bumpkin — you don’t try to throw around your title. The first decision I made as campaign manager was not to try to act like a boss…