How candidates 'weaponize' Campaign 2016

Jeb Bush aims to 'weaponize' his fundraising numbers to break out of a crowded GOP primary pack. Other candidates bash each other with truth-squad web sites. It's all about gaining an advantage. 

Monica Herndon/The Tampa Bay Times/AP
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush speaks at the Hillsborough County Republican Party annual Lincoln Day Dinner on June 19, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.

Weaponize. An increasingly popular word that connotes turning something – in politics, anything from campaign contributions to fact-check columns to politicians themselves – into a powerful means of gaining advantage.

Given how political campaigns increasingly have been compared to military endeavors, it’s hardly surprisingly that “weaponize” has joined other national-security words such as “blowback” and “false flag” in entering civilian discourse. The word first came into use during the cold war and soared in popularity during the 1990s, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer.

GOP strategist Mike Murphy, an adviser to Jeb Bush, told donors this month that the ex-Florida governor’s campaign is aggressively trying to boost its fundraising total for the first half of 2015, thus demonstrating its strength in an increasingly crowded field. “We want to weaponize our [fundraising] number,” Mr. Murphy said, according to The New York Times. “The press has set a very high expectation for us, much higher than we would have set for ourselves.”

A recent American Press Institute report, meanwhile, found that media truth-squad websites such as PolitiFact.com also are getting turned into tactical tools. “Political actors regularly ‘weaponize’ fact checks,” it said. “Candidates, staff and supporters, including party organizations and independent expenditure groups, cite fact checks in TV ads and debates to refute attacks and undermine opponents’ credibility. Political organizations also mischaracterize fact-checkers’ reporting or present the journalists’ conclusions in ways that are inaccurate or misleading.”

And in the ongoing battle over trade legislation, progressives in Oregon in April brought in Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts, the darling of liberal Democrats, to use in a mailer criticizing Sen. Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon over the issue. The Daily Beast’s succinct headline: “Lefties Weaponize Elizabeth Warren.”

Conservative pundit Guy Benson, promoting his new book “End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun),” also used the word this month to decry what he and coauthor Mary Katharine Ham regard as the growing pervasiveness of political correctness in society.

“Political correctness has been with us, unfortunately, for many decades,” Mr. Benson said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “But I think what we’re seeing now, especially in an age of social media, is that a lot of this craziness is being born on campus but then it’s being weaponized in the media, weaponized in Washington, D.C., and it’s proliferating across the country and it’s sort of seeping into all elements of American life.” He cited the recent backlash after two gay businessmen hosted a fireside chat with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), whose tea party-backed positions are anathema to many gay Democrats.

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

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