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Roger Ailes and Donald Trump are kindred masters of ‘truthiness’

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Having lost his job as boss of Fox News because of sexual harassment charges lodged against him by multiple women, Roger Ailes probably has plenty of time on his hands. Reportedly, he is spending some of that time as Donald Trump’s chief debate coach.

I say reportedly because, though numerous sources have confirmed the fact to various news outlets, Trump minions are insisting the man has no connection to the campaign. Likely they are worried that admitting an association with this grotesque Lothario will unravel their efforts to change the negative perceptions of Trump among many female voters.

Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, just shelled out $20 million to former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson in a settlement of her sexual harassment complaint and gave an undisclosed amount to other female employees who said Ailes had made their lives miserable with his inappropriate behavior. Ailes is said to have walked away with a $40-million exit payment, which is not exactly punishment for the trouble he caused. It was more of a big thank you from Rupert Murdoch, the overlord of the media empire. Though Ailes’ unwelcome flirtations cost Murdoch a big chunk of money, it was small change compared to the fortune Ailes made for him by building Fox News into a highly lucrative propaganda machine for political conservatives.

Whatever his personal flaws, Ailes knows media and how to manipulate opinion. Now, he is applying those skills in debate prep for Trump. “In recent weeks, Ailes has become one of the most influential voices in the room as Trump prepares for his first head-to-head matchup with Hillary Clinton, on September 26,” CNN Money reports. “Ailes has attended at least two of Trump’s Sunday debate prep sessions in person, sources said, and talks with Trump by phone multiple times a week.”

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Trump is known to be an impatient student of policy and is famously unpredictable when he gets a microphone and a crowd in front of him, so even an impresario like Ailes may find it a challenge getting the candidate to learn his lines, do his homework and stick to a script. Then again, Ailes may be smart enough to know he merely needs to help Trump hone his natural Trumpishness.

Why would Trump need memorized lines and briefing books anyway? Facts have never been important to Trump. Conventional political candidates would pay dearly for spinning fictions the way he does, but not Trump. The wildly elastic version of reality that Trump propounds in every speech and tweet and interview happily coincides with the vision of the world held by millions of Americans. Over and over again, Trump fans have said they love him because he says the very things that are on their minds. Whether or not those things are verifiably true does not matter at all. In the word coined by Stephen Colbert, it is “truthiness” — the feel of truth — that counts.

That is why Trump will be a dangerous debate opponent for Hillary Clinton. He will say anything with utter conviction, even if it is some random notion that contradicts the last stray thought he came up with minutes before. He and those who want to put him in the White House are immune to fact checkers. When, in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, he told his delegates, “I am your voice,” none objected. He is their voice — and their brain and their avatar. They would follow him off a cliff and drag the country with them.

Trump really doesn’t need Ailes, but the two men are longtime pals, so maybe they will just go out for dinner, swap lies, flirt with the waitresses and talk about the hot chicks they have pursued. Between courses, Ailes could help Trump practice a few zingers for the debates and Trump could tutor Ailes in the art of romancing women. It is pretty obvious Ailes could use the coaching.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter


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