“I’m focused on …” An all-purpose way for politicians to dodge reporters’ questions – which invariably are about the lawmakers’ aspirations for higher office – that they aren’t ready to answer.
It’s one of those maxims that’s difficult for anyone beyond a politician’s inner circle to disprove. And of course, it helps to demonstrate said politician’s devotion to his or her current duties.
A year or so out from the 2016 primaries, potential Republican presidential candidates often fall back on the phrase. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has become expert at it, arguing that pressing state business is keeping his eyes on Columbus – for now, anyway.
“I’m introducing a budget in another week that will be another significant reform budget,” Governor Kasich told “Fox News Sunday” earlier this week. “That's what we do out here.... What I'm going to do is focus now, I've gotta get this budget going.... There's plenty of time for me to decide.”
Top Florida Republicans also recently took the approach regarding the 2018 gubernatorial race. At Gov. Rick Scott’s recent inauguration, Attorney General Pam Bondi assured probing reporters: “I’m focused on being attorney general for the next four years,” echoing similar sentiments by Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
And in California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom opted out of 2018 gubernatorial speculation by saying he was focused on another statewide race he isn't even running for – an open US Senate seat in 2016. “We're going to focus appropriately on what's in front of us, and that’s the Senate seat that we hope Democrats are successful in replacing one of the legendary California Democrats, Barbara Boxer,” he said.
Athletes and coaches regularly trot it out, too, as a way of indicating they’re not distracted by anything beyond what’s in front of them. “The only thing I’m focused on is the Seattle Seahawks,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick declared this week, in a highly unsuccessful effort to deflate the national chatter over Deflategate.
But the most memorable nonpolitical use is still by Martha Stewart in 2002, when she was the target of insider-trading allegations for which she eventually did jail time. Asked repeatedly about her financial misdeeds on CBS’s “Early Show” during her cooking and home-entertainment segment, Stewart curtly responded that she wanted “to focus on my salad.”
Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Decoder Voices.