Without Roger Ailes, there would have been no President Richard Nixon, no President George H.W. Bush and definitely no President Donald Trump. All three were blessed by the keen mind of a master manipulator who knew how to sell political candidates like Apple sells iPhones. Was there buyer’s remorse? You betcha, but Ailes - like most ad-men - believed in the motto of “you buy it; you own it.” He didn’t care; all that mattered was he won, eventually earning the title of “kingmaker,” a designation he didn’t wear humbly.

He liked to brag, and watching his story unfold in the fascinating documentary, “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” it strikes you how many cues Trump takes from Ailes, right down to his belief in transactional relationships, his thirst for power and his misogynistic treatment of women. It was the latter that famously got Ailes booted from his job as CEO of Fox News, a network he founded and long championed to the top of the ratings. It’s also where he fostered an environment of rampant sexual harassment of his female employees, offering quid pro quo ultimatums in which sexual favors were sought in exchange for promotions. Refusals of which, were sure to get you fired or placed on a “do-not-hire” list. In that respect, Ailes ruined as many careers as he made.

Director Alexis Bloom (“Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher”) wrenchingly introduces us to his victims, or at least the handful willing to discuss it on camera - or not under an non-disclosure agreement as part of their lucrative settlements with the network and its oily owner, Rupert Murdoch. What strikes you is the fear in their voices, cringing at the mention of Ailes’ name, even though he’s been dead for 18 months. It’s the reaction of someone who’s faced down a monster and lived to tell about it. What causes men like Ailes, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Trump to behave so callously, so entitled?

Bloom, to her detriment, has little inclination to find out. Hers is more a just-the-facts-ma’am approach, which is devastating enough. The stories are appalling, especially Ailes setting the example for his male anchors like Bill O’Reilly, Eric Bolling and contributor Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator. The takeaway being that men and power is a rancid mix.

If that wasn’t awful enough, Bloom makes a convincing case that the current political temperament of us vs. them, red vs. blue and the incivility such divisions sow, can all be traced to Ailes and his infamous Willie Horton ads credited with Bush 41 erasing a 15-point gap to Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. When questioned about the ad’s overt racial messages, using a black escaped murderer as a political ploy, Ailes cavalierly replies, the public reaction would have been the same if Horton were white. Yeah, right.

Bloom suggests this misanthropic attitude was born out of Ailes’ resentment of his allegedly abusive father, a tire-factory foreman from Ohio who instilled his conservative beliefs in his son. But she offers no real proof. To the contrary, Ailes in his early years was actually a pretty solid citizen, albeit a bit of a conniver when it came to wrestling away the top spot at his first job as the executive producer of “The Mike Douglas Show.” And then, when he later pulled Nixon aside when he was a guest on the “Douglas” show during the 1968 presidential election, convincing the future chief executive he needed him to make his “brand” more palpable to TV viewers if he wanted to avoid a repeat of his loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Nixon agreed, and the rest is history.

We also get a feel for Ailes’ pettiness through his running feud with the local politicians in his home away from home in Putnam County, New York, where his third wife, Beth, owned the local newspaper. How convenient to possess such an opinion-swaying tool when you’re determined to turn your blue town red. But to what end? As one of Ailes’ victims asks, “Didn’t he have better things to do?” Apparently not. According to the film, Ailes had no close friends and no real interests beyond stirring up trouble and watching the factions fight it out. Again, a trait he shares with Trump.

Glaringly missing is any attempt to contact Ailes’ three wives or the on-air hosts he made into stars, such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Judge Jeanine Pirro; and the candidates he helped get elected like Trump and Rudy Giuliani. Nor do we hear from the woman who eventually brought Ailes down, former “Fox and Friends” host Gretchen Carlson, who is happy to let her $20 million settlement do all the talking.

As close as we get to a real insider is Glenn Beck, who tells Bloom he left the network because he didn’t like the way it was being used to rip America apart. But, he adds, when handing in his resignation, he was sure to thank Ailes for giving conservatives a place to express their views. It was a compliment he says caused the steely Ailes to actually shed a tear.

Liberals are also sure to get a kick out of the little known fact that their beloved MSNBC was called America’s Talking in its original incarnation, a network founded by Ailes, whose on-air personalities included himself and the Left’s devil incarnate, Sean Hannity. The network eventually paved the way for Fox News after parent company, NBC, sold the channel to Bill Gates without making Ailes privy, a betrayal that stirred him to vow to “f--- NBC, and f--- it good.” And that just what he did, as a check of the weekly Nielsen ratings prove.

In the end, purposely or not, Bloom leaves us to deal with what to think of a “genius” who was a great innovator but a terrible person, a real-life Charles Foster Kane. But, alas, there is no “Rosebud;” just a sad, pathetic man who used his God-given gifts to destroy and provoke instead of mend and unite.

Al Alexander may be reached at alexandercritica@aol.com.

“Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes”

A documentary by Alexis Bloom featuring Glenn Beck and Austin Pendleton.

(Not rated)

Grade: B