Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall attempt to decode and defang this world with a regular dispatch that we're calling "This Week In Coulda Shoulda Maybe." We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!
Sometimes, in life, you succeed on your own merits. But other times, you need a little something extra. And when the media thinks that they've caught on to that "something extra," they've got a term for it: the secret weapon.
If you look long enough, secret weapons abound. If you're in the National Hockey League, your secret weapon is the female figure skater. If you're the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots, it's Tom Brady's patience. If you're producing the Grammys, then what you find in your "in case of emergency break glass" box is a gospel choir.
Kanye West has a secret weapon. So does Beyonce. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have them. Elon Musk has a secret weapon that he apparently won't tell anyone about. What if his secret weapon was "a small firearm, secreted on his person?" That would sure be a surprise to find out!
There comes a time in the coverage of any election that you start to hear about the candidates and their "secret weapons." And nearly 100 percent of the time, the secret weapon is the same thing: the candidate's spouse. This is a thing that's said about nearly every candidate. Barack Obama's secret weapon is Michelle Obama. Mitt Romney's secret weapon is Ann Romney. The same is true for Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul and Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty.
Senators got 'em. Governors got 'em. Even our favorite politicians from across the pond have got 'em. Sometimes it's awkward, like when you cheat on your secret weapon and father a son with your household staff. Sometimes it's a little bit weird, like when your predecessor's spouse becomes your secret weapon.
Once campaigns end, with the winners in ascension and the losers in absentia, there is precious little discussion as to whether any of these spouses-as-secret-weapons actually worked or not. And why would there be? The brilliance of the "spouse as secret weapon" story is that it's a trope disguised as a scoop -- a tired exercise handed down from editor to reporter to blandly pass the time.
There is not a person, in the history of the news, who has ever assigned this "spouse as secret weapon" story who would dare step forward in public and demand that we heed his case for having assigned it. And there's not a reporter in the world with the balls to tell you, truthfully, that the assignment was anything but bogus. (I dearly want someone -- anyone! -- to take on this task and present it literally. That is: a real, earnest accounting of how a candidate's spouse could potentially hurt another human being.)
Already, this year, we've crossed the threshold, with Columba Bush getting a write-up in The Hill, depicting her as Jeb Bush's secret weapon. ("Don't publicly release a bunch of random people's Social Security numbers," is the sort of thing you'd kind of like your secret weapon to advise, but, alas!) He'll join a handful of other potential 2016ers who have already notched their spouses-as-secret-weapons stories. At some point, this story will be written about each of the remaining candidates.
And so, with that in mind, we'd like to pay tribute to all the candidates who possess secret weapons that aren't their wives or husbands, and the reporters who dared to delve a little further to expose these armaments to their readers.
Hillary Clinton's Secret Weapons: Eyewear. Grandchildren. Huma Abedin. Praise from Republicans. "African-American voters and America's withdrawal from Iraq." (Well, maybe not anymore on the latter. Perhaps America's intervention in Iraq can finally be her secret weapon!)
Rand Paul's Secret Weapon: Hillary Clinton.
Mike Huckabee's Secret Weapon: Also, Hillary Clinton. (I guess Rand gets her Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Huck gets her on Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, and they alternate Sundays.)
Scott Walker's Secret Weapon: Vanilla. (What else?)
Joe Biden's Secret Weapon: Laughter. (What else?)
So what is the 2016 election about this week?
Vaccines! From NPR's Mara Liasson: "Think vaccine politics are a very good mirror of the current dynamics in the 2016 presidential field. On the Republican side, the two candidates who've been doing really well lately, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, managed to navigate the crosscurrents of vaccine politics really well. The two candidates who've been floundering a bit couldn't. It's a hot potato for Republicans because even though there are plenty of rich, liberal, whole-food parents who don't vaccinate, it's a much more burning issue for the Republican grassroots. They're more likely to see it as an issue of individual freedom and liberty. "
Continuing The Obama Administration! Joe Biden: “That is what the next presidential election will be about. Do we continue on the path we are on or do we go back to the policies of the past?”
Whether people like senators or like governors! The Hill: "The Republican presidential primary is shaping up to be a battle between the statehouse and the statesmen."
Getting Drafty In Here
For as long as the 2016 campaign cycle and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been things existing simultaneously, there has been an effort to bring about the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-ization of the two. "Oh, what? You got Elizabeth Warren in my 2016 election!" And so, we have a long-standing "Draft Elizabeth Warren" campaign, which has bred an endless array of "Is Elizabeth Warren going to finally jump into the race" stories.
But this may be the week when the "Are The Draft Elizabeth Warren People Going To Get A New Hobby" stories begin to flow. This week, one of the nascent "convince Elizabeth Warren to launch a foolhardy campaign for the White House" efforts, in concert with MoveOn, commissioned a push-poll, and Salon's Jim Newell utterly demolished it, saying, "Credit to MoveOn for being transparent and sharing its methodology. On the other hand: oh my god, this is hilarious. We can’t believe they would share this! It’s the fluffiest poll since whatever the last really fluffy poll was."
Indeed, many of the poll questions make the typical push-poll look downright shy. Do you agree that Elizabeth Warren really wants to take it to big Wall Street interests? Isn't her middle-class backstory interesting? How about this report from Time magazine, which discusses her zealous defense of consumers? Isn't it a great thing to protect consumers? It all basically reads as, "People have said Elizabeth Warren is amazing. Do you think America would benefit from an amazing president?"
There’s a scientific term for this type of survey, can’t quite think of it now, but it’s not a kind one. The gist of it is “when your survey spends 11 questions puffing up someone into a quasi-deity and then immediately asks if people like that person, it’s not a very useful survey.” This isn’t how an election plays out. When New Hampshire Democrats enter the polling station on primary day, the voting machine will not read them a glowing profile of Elizabeth Warren before displaying the ballot. (Although who knows; these machines sometimes go on the fritz.)
Elsewhere in Salon, Joan Walsh absorbs the news that New York's Working Families Party joined the Draft Warren movement, and gives it the side-eye it deserves:
I admire WFP; I think they’re doing exactly what progressives should be doing: Working within the Democratic Party and pulling it to the left, not standing outside the party and declaring it no better than the GOP.
But it was hard not to contrast their “Draft Warren” move, which looks symbolic at best, and contains an implicit challenge to Hillary Clinton, with their cave-in to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year -- which was not merely symbolic but had real ramifications. At that time, they had a terrific progressive female candidate, Zephyr Teachout, ready to challenge Cuomo -– and they backed Cuomo. So to recap: With a willing progressive woman challenging a politically centrist Democratic man -– the progressive didn’t get the WFP endorsement. But now, with a centrist but more liberal (than Cuomo) Democratic woman, Hillary Clinton, (probably) running for president, WFP is courting a challenger -- who (probably) isn’t running anyway.
Lots of people admire the effort that Elizabeth Warren undertakes to see to it that a basic level of fairness for normal human Americans is restored as we climb out of the post-crash wreckage. It's something that she works at very hard, on a daily basis. Maybe it's time for everyone working in the Draft Warren world to start doing the same.
The Week In Predictions
Hillary Clinton: One peril of Clinton taking her time to enter the race is that she will have to endure the periodic repetition of the "all the advantages that Hillary Clinton enjoys may turn out to be impediments," as if the best possible way to run for office is to be burdened with disadvantages. This week, it's The Washington Post: "But the luxury of front-runner status could easily become a liability as Clinton attempts the historically difficult feat of leading her party to a third consecutive term in the White House." We are subsequently told that "her advisers are working hard to fashion ways to make her seem hungrier, scrappier and less like the inheritor of Obama’s mantle." Sure, but she'll still take being up 40 points on Joe Biden eight days a week!
Rand Paul: The National Journal's Lauren Fox opines that the "debate about defeating ISIS" could become "perilous" for the Kentucky senator. Probably not as perilous as actually fighting ISIS though!
Elizabeth Warren: The Hill's Judy Kurtz: "A battle between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren could easily divide entertainers, creating a showdown that might split Hollywood and force A-list stars to choose sides." Good thing that Warren isn't running, I guess, though even if she did, at least Amy Pascal can't lose her job a second time.
Joe Biden: He could win the Iowa Caucus, unless someone else does.
All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate
Hillary Clinton should have her campaign headquarters in the Bronx. Or in Queens. (There's space available in Staten Island, too.) Hillary should jump into the race right now, and start doing some Teddy Roosevelt stuff. Also, David Axelrod has advice.
Jeb Bush "should think twice about playing to the Iowa GOP." Rand Paul should "come clean about libertarianism." Chris Christie should "stop telling the Sicilian mother story" and get a makeover -- there are five to choose from. Bobby Jindal "should salvage his legacy by giving up his presidential ambitions and focus on solving Louisiana's fiscal crisis," but where's the fun in that?
This week, Jennifer Rubin says that Rick Perry's "biggest problem may be [Scott] Walker, whom Perry will need to show is less prepared on foreign policy and less accomplished than he is." That means next week, Rubin can flip the names and write the same sentence.
We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is
“If Jeb Bush loses New Hampshire, they'll get Mitt Romney back in the race,” said Carville, who managed Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Clinton that year became the first modern president not to win the Granite State primary.
"Mitt Romney will jump back into the race" is the new "Elizabeth Warren will challenge Hillary Clinton."