Was there a strategy behind the Anthony Weiner trainwreck?

Anthony Weiner, once a front runner in the New York mayoral race, finished in fifth place with roughly 5% of the vote.

Story highlights

  • S.E. Cupp: Some speculated that winning wasn't Anthony Weiner's goal
  • He could have wanted to help his wife's career or raise his visibility for future roles, she says
  • Cupp: Whatever the goal, Weiner's campaign was an embarrassment
  • He said he wanted a campaign of ideas; we got a campaign of idiotic outbursts

In 1965, a 40-year-old William F. Buckley, Jr. ran for mayor of New York City -- a race he arguably never intended to win. In fact, when asked what he'd do if he won he replied, "Demand a recount."

But 10 years after founding the National Review and one year after establishing Barry Goldwater as the conservative nominee for president, Buckley saw that the often-times colorful mayoral election was a useful vehicle for him to elevate his brand and promote conservatism on a national platform.

Though he won only 13.4% of the vote, he still managed to accomplish his objective. And, many credit him with helping Rep. John V. Lindsay become the first Republican mayor of New York since Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

Some suggested early on that Anthony Weiner's bid for mayor was similarly designed -- not to actually win, but toward other ends. Elspeth Reeve in The Atlantic earlier this year suggested this was all an inoculation attempt. Not for Weiner, but for his wife Huma Abedin, who either had designs on her own political career or at least on helping to implement her boss Hillary Clinton's 2016 run.

S.E. Cupp

"If Abedin, and not Weiner, were the first one to hit the campaign trail after his resignation," she wrote, "she would have been the one who was tarnished by his sexts. Or, imagine Clinton trying to focus on eating fried things at the Iowa state fair in 2015, while reporters ask her about new photos on Breitbart.com of her aide's infamous husband."

It's an intriguing idea, but very few could argue that Abedin emerged out of her husband's campaign untarnished. It wasn't just hosting awkward "Women for Weiner" events that call into question everything we think we know about feminism. Or advancing arguably false narratives in glossy magazines that her husband's exploits were dealt with and over, when it was clear Weiner continued his online activities well after resigning from Congress.

Putting his indiscretions aside, it's hard to reconcile such a smart and successful woman finding admiration in a man who ran such a terrible, pugnacious, ineffective and utterly ridiculous campaign.

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The man who yelled at his own constituents, called his 69-year-old opponent "grandpa" at an AARP event, and poetically flipped off reporters on his final ride out of town is her political and personal inspiration? If helping Huma was the plan all along, I think it's safe to say it has not worked.

Others have suggested he might just want his own television show. Fair enough. Plenty of disgraced former politicians have found a forgiving sanctuary on cable television. And he certainly would make for a fascinating, er, something ... on TV.

Huma Abedin, wife of Anthony Weiner, speaks during a press conference on July 23, 2013, in New York City.

But he didn't need to mount an embarrassing and ultimately ruinous mayoral campaign to get there. One turn of the dial and it's clear that there are countless sociopaths, buffoons, hucksters and charlatans with real political platforms who were never on a ballot. Other than "Dancing with the Stars" or "Celebrity Rehab," I doubt Weiner solidified his chances of a major television gig with this last performance.

Others still believe Weiner was merely out for revenge. Revenge against the Breitbarts and Drudges and even establishment Democrats who ruined his life, a final "take that" to punctuate the scandal. And he didn't need to win to do it.

A respectable finish in the primary would have telegraphed that he was run out by gotcha journalists, partisan extremists and spineless bureaucrats, and his real friends -- the voters -- still believed in him. I'm not sure he can make that case, though, after finishing virtually dead last and capturing a paltry 5% of the ultra-liberal Democrats who actually turned out for this thing.

Ultimately, unlike Buckley and conservatism, Weiner did nothing good for liberalism. He wanted a campaign of ideas, but instead waged a campaign of idiotic outbursts. He brought nothing but more embarrassment and shame for his wife and her famous boss. And he did nothing to make "Anthony Weiner the Brand" any more credible. In fact the only constituency he managed to please were New York Post headline writers.

Maybe he really did want to win. And maybe he really thought he could. Where there's power to be had, pathological miscalculations of this sort aren't uncommon. But if he cares about his party, his wife, her career, his brand, and his own future, he will make the courageous decision to go away from politics for a very long time.

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