Candidate’s Spouse Is a Secret Weapon

A brief history of a bad cliche.

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Hillary Clinton was nodding to tradition when she jokingly referred to her husband Bill, the former president of the United States, as her “secret weapon.” Puff pieces that describe a candidate’s spouse as the campaign’s “secret weapon” are as much a part of presidential campaigns as kissing babies and self-important Iowans.

Here is a brief history of a bad cliche:

Jane Sanders

Heidi Cruz

Columba Bush

Melania Trump

Neither of Trump’s two previous wives are considered secret weapons by the political press, but his daughter, Ivanka—whom Trump has said he would consider marrying if they weren’t related—is:

Ivanka Trump

Kelley Paul

Anita Perry

Mary Kaye Huntsman

Carol Paul

Callista Gingrich

Karen Santorum

Michelle Obama

Ann Romney

Cindy McCain

Todd Palin

Jill Biden

Teresa Heinz Kerry

Elizabeth Edwards

McClatchy

“Edwards has been variously described as her husband’s ‘stealth fighter’ or ‘bulletproof cannon’ or ‘the most interesting person in the presidential race right now,'” McClatchy reported. “If not the dominant voice, Elizabeth Edwards has become the most provocative one.”

Judy Dean

Cox Newspapers

Laura Bush

Baltimore Sun

In a dig at previous secret weapons, the Baltimore Sun reported that Bush had the added benefit of not being fully weaponized: “[t]he candidate’s wife, who said one day she hoped to see a woman president, was careful not to sell herself as a striving political wannabe or a back-room adviser to her husband.”

Tipper Gore

Lawrence Journal-World

In addition to his wife, Tipper, Al Gore had a second secret weapon—his oldest daughter, Karenna. It’s a wonder he ever lost:

Daily Mail

Ernestine Bradley

New York Magazine

New York Magazine described the wife of the New Jersey Democrat as “slight, with birdlike features and luminous blue eyes,” with “a waifish, spritelike appearance” that gives the air of “a Teutonic Audrey Hepburn.”

Barbara Bush

Hillary Clinton

Elizabeth Dole

Just about the only major candidate for president or vice president whose spouse was not considered a “secret weapon” was Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne. Obviously Dick Cheney’s secret weapon is a shotgun.

 

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  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.