What would Roger Stone do?

From menswear to political strategy, political strategist Roger Stone has strong opinions

Published May 6, 2018 8:00AM (EDT)

Roger Stone (Getty/Mike Coppola)
Roger Stone (Getty/Mike Coppola)

Excerpted with permission from "Stone's Rules: How to Win at Politics, Business, and Style" by Roger Stone. Copyright 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.


Stone's Rule #24: The Suit

The two-piece man suit, originally called a “lounge suit” or a “business suit,” is still the standard for a white-collar class gentleman. Believe it or not, some suits sold today are not sewn together but rather fused, which essen­tially means they are glued together.

The high temperatures used in dry cleaning causes this glue to melt, which is why sometimes you see bubbling from the facing of the glued components of your jacket. Fused garments should be avoided all together and a gentleman must insist on a suit that is, at worst, machine sewn, and for a few more dollars includes some hand stitching for the lapels and collar.

The well-cut suit is your armor. This is what marks you as a master of the universe. Somber shades of blue and gray connote understated good taste.

Above all make sure your suit fits. Throughout these rules, you may find certain annotations about men’s tailor­ing—so, good God man, make sure your clothes fit!

Different silhouettes and styles of tailoring more closely fits certain body types. The closely cut, high armhole Ital­ian style is good for the tall lean man but not complementary for his more portly brother. The soft-shouldered, Ivy League two-button American cut works best for stocky men. The tall man should avoid vertical stripes while the fat man should avoid them in horizontal. Chose the style of tailoring that is best for your build.


I’m sure the American Association of Dry Cleaners would hate me, but the harsh chemicals used in dry cleaning will break down the fabrics in the finest garments over time. Fibers that are dyed navy blue, black, or dark gray are already stressed by holding the dye. Dry cleaning dries the fabric out, which is why suits cleaned in this manner begin to shine.

Unless you happen to sweat profusely, suits can be cleaned by dipping a whisk broom in cool water and gently brushing the suit. Put outside in fresh air but not direct sunlight to dry. It is essential that a suit or jacket and trousers be allowed to air out immediately after a wearing. Unless you are a slob, you should only need to clean a suit twice a year if worn in regular rotation.


Stone's Rule #38: Check out their shoes

The finest custom-tailored suit or a well-cut, low-cost Italian suit can both give a sophisticated impression to a would-be client or in a meeting with a power broker.

Nevertheless, the look can be ruined with the wrong footwear. Shoes must be one hundred percent leather or suede. No plastic, no stacked heels, no metal ornaments except for the horse bit, and these are only acceptable on genuine Gucci loafers.

Stick to capped toes, brogues, wing tips (although not at the beach, as Nixon fancied). Traditional Bass Weejun penny loafers or tasteful light Italian slip-ons of the softest leather are fine.

The Peal line of shoes made for Brooks Brothers for many years is still the standard of excellence when acquir­ing affordable, proper, simple, and taste­ful gentlemen’s footwear.

Remember: the lighter the shoe, the more elegant the look. Heavy soles, fa­vored by the Italians, are an artsy look that may fly in the East Village or Santa Monica or Geneva, but it won’t cut it for business wear even though some are very well made.

Athletic wear is never right in a busi­ness situation. Even Jay-Z puts on the custom English tailoring when he is cut­ting a mega-deal. Shoes must be highly polished and in excellent condition. I would never hire a man who was fastid­iously dressed but was wearing scuffed shoes.

Various shades of brown suede are acceptable for those Continental Boule­vardiers who want a more sophisticated look. Monkstraps or side-gusset slip-ons are strong with gray flannel and even pinstripes add a country influence to an in-town look.

George Frazier, the famous Boston columnist, said, “How to size a man up? Look down.”


Seriously! Champagne is the best for cleaning when bringing a luster to patent leather, and the best thing is you can drink it while you’re using it to clean the shoes.


Stone's Rule #45: Plans are worthless, planning is indispensable

Eisenhower said it.

Candidates or clients who demand ornate written plans for an advertising and public relations or electoral military campaign don’t understand that life is not a static process and that any written plan would have to be amended as cir­cumstances swiftly change—making the written plan time consuming and ulti­mately useless.

Leadership is adaptive according to changing circumstances, and thus deci­sion making must be somewhat ad hoc. Franklin Roosevelt, whose biography by Lord Conrad Black (a rogue of the first order) I like, had no plan when he vowed to bring America back from depression.

FDR improvised a series of ad hoc decisions and initiatives that brought back America’s confidence and ultimate­ly her strength. Roosevelt had setbacks, like the defeat of his effort to expand the Supreme Court.

Knowing what direction you want to head is about tactics. Knowing what you want to achieve is a clearly defined goal. Having a strategy to get there is crucial. Inviolable plans are worthless.

Planning, on the other hand, knowing ahead of time how you will cross a river and low long it will take if the time to cross the river should come, is a differ­ent thing entirely. Logistical planning is crucial.


Stone's Rule #58: Make your message big, bold and simple

Whenever a young man or woman comes to work for me, I require them to read David Ogilvy’s "Confessions of an Advertising Man," the second great­est book ever written (after the Holy Bible).

A Scottish advertising genius, Ogil­vy’s principles were used in newspaper, magazine and TV advertising in the ’70s and ’80s with incredible success. They also apply, with equally extraordinary ef­fect, to Internet-age messaging.

“Write great headlines and you’ll have successfully invested 80 percent of your money” was one of Ogilvy’s famous maxims.

Ogilvy came from the world of direct response advertising, which used devic­es like coupons and reply-by-mail cam­paigns to invoke consumer response. This way, success could be measured on more than just sales figures.

Readers can grasp bold ideas and concepts through headlines and Ogilvy favored the big, bold, stark headline. He believed the key to good advertising was in your “offer” to voters, which must be immediately discernible in your headline. Telling voters what is in it for them is the best way to grab their attention.

Signs and billboards are hit-and-run. You can only effectively communicate the name of the candidate or cause. If I see a logo without the candidate’s name as the largest, most prominent feature, I see a lost opportunity.

With Internet advertising, your pitch must be long enough to tell a story, but short enough not to lose the reader’s at­tention.

David Ogilvy was a “madman” before Mad Men showed the world what a “mad­man” was. His book revolutionized my ideas about advertising. Read it, learn it, live it.


Stone's Rule #85: Don't shoot the guy behind you

In politics, the hardest position to oc­cupy is frontrunner in a race for public office. It is incumbent on the frontrunner to make news, show progress, and, above all, appear unconcerned about the challengers nipping at their heels.

The most treacherous mistake for any frontrunner is also their greatest temptation: avoiding risk in order to maintain a lead.

Campaigns are about capturing the interest of the voters and holding that interest.

When a candidate has nothing new or specific to say, choosing to play it safe by saying little or nothing of inter­est, or nothing at all, voters will look elsewhere for scrappier, more vocal, more aggressive candidates who have something to say in their effort to gain ground.

If you are not gaining votes, you are losing votes.

But just as the frontrunner is expect­ed to be the leading voice in any campaign, the frontrunner is also the central target.

As the inevitable attacks start to flow it is easier, or at least more tempt­ing, for an already risk-averse frontrunner to counterattack the trailing candidate(s), instead of having the disci­pline to stay on message and continue generating interest away from, not towards, an opponent’s attacks.

A candidate who attacks a trailing candidate forfeits frontrunner status by doing so, and becomes just another one of the pack, fighting to secure a public office.

The corollary to this rule would be “Don’t punch down.” Attacking those trailing you, or of a lesser position on the political totem, only elevates them and increases their credibility.


Stone's Rule #128: Make your most difficult call first

I learned this from South Carolina polit­ical legend and one of the longest serving U.S. Senators in history, Strom Thurmond.

Thurmond was as aggressive a user of the telephone as any politician could be. Strom would call cronies, college and military chums, farmers, business owners, local pols, county sheriffs, judges . . . really anyone who had any in­fluence with South Carolina voters.

Thurmond would comb the newspa­pers to find people whose children had died or the names of the wives of recently deceased veterans. He’d call the par­ents or the widow or the next of kin and express his heartfelt condolences. Everyone got a card from the good Sena­tor on their birthday, too.

In these “keeping in touch phone calls,” Strom would dole out federal goodies as prolifically as he would home­spun advice. I once walked in on him when he was giving a widow in Florence the precise recipe for a concoction of prune juice and lemons that Strom told her would cure both her cold and her constipation.

This endless stream of personal phone calls to back home was Thur­mond’s folksy way of helping his constit­uents, but also of keeping their vote.

“Make your toughest phone call—the one where you must deliver bad news—early in the day, or it will never get made,” Ol’ Strom told me.

By Roger Stone

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