As it does roughly every other year, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s penis has returned to fill a summer news vacuum. Weiner is married—though only in the technical sense, now—to Hillary Clinton’s long-time aide, Huma Abedin. Clinton is running for president, against Donald Trump. So it was inevitable that Trump would try to find a way to translate Weiner’s latest indiscretions against his wife into some sort of criticism against Clinton:
I only worry for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information. Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.
Trump is fortunate. Because even though there doesn’t seem to be any meaningful connection between Anthony Weiner’s sexts and the merits or actions of Hillary Clinton, he is not alone in trying to draw one. Members of several news organizations have already found themselves unable to resist the urge to find such a connection and pat themselves on the back for their rigorous neutrality in covering the election. But horserace-ifying this story doesn’t add any balance to the Force, because there’s no there there. If this goes much further, it would be nice if those who’ve made the leap from “There goes Weiner again!” to “Can the Clinton campaign distance itself from this?” could please show their work.
The Anthony Weiner story is a terrific one in its own, isolated domain, unrelated to the ongoing presidential campaign. It’s a former congressman engaging in the same behavior that turned him into a pariah years after he’d said he’d concluded that chapter of his life. It’s painful for just about everyone involved, but so are plenty of great tabloid stories. What’s less clear—meaning, not clear at all—is how this great tabloid story distills into a meaningful election story. Here’s the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman skipping that explanation and jumping straight into the second-order horserace handicapping.
Come again? Steve Bannon is the chief executive officer of the Donald Trump presidential campaign. While divorce documents can’t be taken as the unvarnished truth, Bannon’s ex-wife did make some disturbing allegations about the man in them, and it’s worthwhile to explore the sort of people Donald Trump is hiring to run his campaign. Anthony Weiner, meanwhile, does not work for the Clinton campaign. So … that’s that, campaign-story-wise. Whatever point Haberman was trying to make wasn’t at all clarified with this follow-up, either.
The political horserace-ification of something that has no obvious connection to the ongoing political horserace was also embedded in this extra-savvy speculation from National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar:
Let’s recap the series of events leading up to this beaut. Anthony Weiner, after humiliating his wife on various occasions with highly public tabloid scandals, was caught, very publicly again, returning to the same form of marital impropriety. Abedin’s announcement of a separation, then, must be a political maneuver from “Clintonworld” to distance itself from nearby scandal, and not the decision of an autonomous woman who got tired of being humiliated and deceived by her weirdo creep husband.
As for Trump’s statement, the most generous reading would be that Clinton shouldn’t have retained Abedin on staff, because Weiner had a known reputation for (text-messaged) promiscuity and thus a strong chance of getting blackmailed. OK. A few problems with this. First, Weiner, at least since the first scandal, clearly doesn’t give much of a crap about getting caught, otherwise he might have made even a single step to cover his tracks. Second, there’s no evidence that there were blackmail attempts. Third, if Abedin was passing on highly classified information to her husband, that’s where the problem would be, no matter who her husband is. (Does Trump pass on such information to Melania Trump?) Fourth, Anthony Weiner texting crotch shots to people has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign or her qualifications. Again: no.
An uncompetitive presidential election is no fun for political media, but shoehorning this into the familiar shape of campaign scandal isn’t the answer, even if Weiner and Clinton are just two degrees of separation apart. The impulse to do so will be strong, nevertheless, just as it was strong to treat Clinton and Trump’s cross-accusations of bigotry as an equal debate last week, even if one case was considerably stronger.
There’s a horserace out there, and all of us saps are here watching it. But not everything under the sun has to be fed into it, and a scandal on one side does not require an equal and opposite scandal to be manufactured for the other.