Candidate wives matter
Throughout history, a number of Presidential candidates have had personal baggage which, in modern times, might have ended their political career.
For example, it was lucky for Thomas Jefferson that FOX News wasn’t around to grill him on his affair with his slave Sally Hemings. And Lincoln probably wouldn’t have been elected had TMZ reported that honest Abe had once shared a bed with his male roommate. What would CNBC have said about Andrew Jackson being married to a bigamist? And I’m certain that had CNN been around in the 1950’s and ’60’s, they would have derailed the political aspirations of JFK and LBJ, both who were serial philanderers. But scandals are not nearly so common as are verbal gaffes, which, today, can sometimes do just as much damage to candidates as can a sexual indiscretion.
In a 1976 debate with challenger Jimmy Carter, President Ford (who assumed that mantle after Nixon resigned) remarked that Poland was not under Communist influence. That single comment cast doubts on Ford’s ability to deal with foreign affairs, and together with his pardon of Nixon, lost him the election. In 1988, George H.W. Bush made a pledge of “No new taxes”, then proceeded to break that pledge after being elected. It cost him a second term. In 2012 Texas Governor Rick Perry boasted that he had a plan to cut the budget by eliminating three federal agencies. However, during a televised debate, he forgot the name of the third agency. “Oops”, he said. And just last month, Ted Cruz tried to impress the voters of Indiana by re-creating a scene from the movie “Hoosiers” and referring to the basketball hoop as a “basketball ring.” It was the beginning of the end for “Lyin’ Ted.”
In a sense we’ve come to expect such missteps from Presidential candidates, and that’s why network and cable reporters follow them around 24/7, just in case they might say something that could end a campaign. But what we don’t expect is for candidates’ wives to make the kinds of gaffes that might do serious damage. Yet, 2016 is replete with such spousal slips.
Anita Perry, wife of former Texas Governor Rick Perry, earlier this year announced that she was pro-choice. Rick, a born again Christian, hoped to put his 2012 “oops” moment behind him, and demonstrate to the Party faithful that HE was the most conservative candidate in 2016. Naturally he had to apologize for Anita’s remark, but the damage had been done.
Chris Christie’s wife Mary Pat never actually SAID anything to hurt her husband’s 2016 run for the White House, but if looks could kill, then Chris’ new BFF Donald Trump would have been dead last month. That’s when the Donald told a campaign rally that Hillary is playing the woman card, and that if Clinton were a man, she wouldn’t even get 5 percent of the vote. Mary Pat, who was standing directly behind and to the side of Trump, and was in plain view of the cameras, was visibly pissed by Donald’s sexist slur. It was a look of disdain that seemed to say, “I can’t believe my husband sucks up to this boar.” Her disapproving glance has done nothing to slow down the Trump train, but she was big news for a week, and Donald doesn’t tend to forget things like that.
Perhaps Heidi Cruz has had the roughest campaign season of all the candidate spouses. First her wacked-out husband Ted had his minions release a photo of a near nude Melania Trump, and implied that Americans can’t afford to have that sort of woman as First Lady. Trump countered by releasing a split screen image containing an unflattering photo of Heidi on the left, and a sexy photo of Melania on the right. The message was clear. Ted the wacko married an unattractive woman who wouldn’t make a very good impression as White House hostess. Poor Heidi was the victim of an internet war, but it wasn’t her fault. Nevertheless, it thrust her into the limelight, so naturally the news media started hanging on her every word. That turned out to be a bad thing for Ted because Heidi is a gaffe machine.
After spending more than a year trying to convince the public that his Cuban heritage and Canadian birth still made him a natural US citizen, Heidi told a gaggle of reporters that her husband “is an immigrant.” Ouch! Then, last week, Heidi compared Ted’s campaign to Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. By this time, Cruz had already suspended his campaign, but Heidi’s idiotic analogy only reinforced to voters that Ted’s life partner was as wacky as he was.
And finally we come to Jane Sanders, wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders. With all due respect to Bernie, Jane is a friggin’ big mouth buzz kill. Until a few weeks ago, Bernie’s movement was unstoppable. In addition to attracting thousands of new voters to his rallies, he was raising money to the tune of $45 million per month, all from average donations of $27. If he continued on that pace, he would become the first independent to have a real shot at the Democratic nomination, because Hillary’s super delegates would have to acquiesce to Bernie’s steamroller campaign. But all that came crashing down last month when Jane decided she wanted some face time on the networks. She opened her pie hole and out came these fatal words, “Bernie will not be a spoiler, and he’s definitely not going to run as a third party candidate.” In less than 30 seconds, Jane Sanders had done what Clinton couldn’t do in 10 months… she destroyed an entire movement. Days later, campaign contributions fell off, and the following week, Bernie announced he was laying off over 100 campaign workers. He also admitted that he would not be able to advertise as planned in most of the remaining primary States in order to save up for California. Thanks a lot Jane ! You broke the sacred rule of poker and politics. Never show your cards while the hand is still in play. If Mrs. Sanders had just kept quiet until the convention, it would have given Bernie more time to consider a third party run while he continued to keep his army engaged, and donations flowing. At the very least, he would have had much more leverage to influence the Party platform.
According to Libby Copeland of Slate.com, UVA political science professor Larry Sabato tweeted the following during the 2012 election, “Spouses please voters, but don’t change votes.” Maybe that was true four years ago, but in 2016, candidate spouses HAVE changed votes, just not in a good way. In any event, the primary season is almost over, and soon it will be up to Melanie Trump and Bill Clinton to do their worst. Maybe the pair will hook up in a debate. Or perhaps they will just hook up. Either way, I predict one or both of them will have an effect on the outcome of this year’s election. It remains to be seen just how. !
JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).