Skip to main content

Was there a strategy behind the Anthony Weiner trainwreck?

By S.E. Cupp, CNN
updated 2:20 PM EDT, Thu September 12, 2013
Anthony Weiner, once a front runner in the New York mayoral race, finished in fifth place with roughly 5% of the vote.
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

Editor's note: S.E. Cupp is co-host of the new "Crossfire," which airs weekdays at 6:30 p.m. ET on CNN. She is also the author of "Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity," co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right," a columnist at the New York Daily News and a political commentator for Glenn Beck's "The Blaze."

(CNN) -- 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.

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp

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.

"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.

Did sexting derail Anthony Weiner?
Weiner campaign bites the dust

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of S.E. Cupp.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT