09/25/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Clinton and Cruz: Peacocking Because They Can

More than most, this was a week of strutting plays and players in Washington. While Hillary Clinton gave more interviews to prime her presidential coronation, an equally self-impressed junior Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, sought the spotlight by ransoming the Affordable Care Act in the coming budget face-off. Like Hillary, Cruz's play seemed as designed for the politico as the politics.


Each was the practitioner of a play we call the Peacock, one of three provoking plays in our influence strategy spectrum. It's the strategy of self-aggrandizement and self-acclaim. And each was allowed the conceit because no one told them they couldn't.

Hillary is the more clever of the two. Having hung her at-the-beach shingle, she is difficult for GOP foes to thwart because she's not running for anything... yet. Cruz is cavalier by comparison. While he touts debate championships, he is being countered with Call Outs from his own team and must choose between party loyalty and self interest. Now, he will run more Peacocks to stare down his fractured party leadership or the face-saving Disco. This is the play of parliamentary debate (one he no doubt knows), the play that concedes a smaller point to proceed with a larger agenda.

Hillary's is a sideshow that will be countered later. But Cruz's circus is playing now and it's being panned, not only by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell but by Barack Obama and top Democrats. Though it's late in the game, the administration's playbook might feature these moves and messages to out-smart Obamacare hostage-takers.

SURROGATE. Just as he did this week, Obama will tap Bill Clinton (maybe Hillary too) to educate the populace and enlist the millions that Obamacare now covers. While it's odd that the president needs his own explainer-in-chief, it's an effective use of a serious and credible third-party partner.

FIAT. Directly or through others, Obama will remind us flatly that his signature legislation is the law.

SCREEN. Next, he'll play the justice card, suggesting that every duly passed law should have the opportunity to be duly implemented. Imagine, he might opine, if the Grand Coolee Dam had been sabotaged while it was being built...

LABEL. In that vein, he'll suggest that dissenters to Obamacare are both un-American if not anarchists. He has already suggested that Obamacare haters are extorting the electorate, though only in his scholarly finger-wagging style, nothing that resembles the ferocity of Ted Cruz.

RECAST. Finally, he'll repeat his argument that unhappy polls on Obamacare are premature and political. Don't judge my public work until you'll seen if it actually works, he'll essentially say.

Peacocks are easily exposed, but only when opponents wish to do so. Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are case examples of players finding gaps in certain defensive lines and running through them. They may ultimately get caught or cornered, but not before they advance their positions and politics. Republicans will regret that Hillary has gone so far on her road to the White House, and Democrats will kick themselves for ever letting Cruz into the game. But until they plug the holes, there will be no shortage of quick and cunning players exploiting their strategic oversights.

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