“Not-so-secret weapon.” A twist on the stock political cliché that still allows politicians, reporters and observers to refer to something powerful that a candidate may have up his or her sleeve.
“Secret weapon” is still common, of course, but long past its prime, particularly when referring to a candidate’s husband or wife. As veteran journalist Rick Dunham pointed out in a blog post on the worst political-journalism clichés: “Why are spouses ‘secret weapons’? They’re not secret. And they’re not weapons. Please retire this sexist, martial metaphor.”
But the war-like state of contemporary politics has made it impossible to banish the “weapon” part of the phrase – witness the popularity of “weaponize” that has joined other national-security words such as “blowback” and “false flag” in entering civilian discourse. “Not-so-secret weapon” can thus be seen as a sort of compromise.
In discussing her plans for the upcoming New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton touted her husband Bill as her “not-so-secret weapon.” Bill Clinton lost in the Granite State during his first presidential race in 1992 – but his strong second-place finish behind Paul Tsongas of neighboring Massachusetts led the then-Arkansas governor to famously dub himself “the Comeback Kid.”
Other family members who are not so secret, but still who have been recently portrayed as weapons: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi; Jeb Bush’s mother and former first lady, Barbara Bush; and Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka. (Plus, when their husbands were still running, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s wife, Kelley, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s wife, Janet.)
But the not-so-secret usage goes beyond relatives. Politico used it to describe Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s general appeal on the campaign trail, while the conservative blog PowerLine summoned it to more specifically refer to SenatorRubio’s good looks and skill at connecting with younger voters. In the recent Iowa caucuses, CNN deployed it to refer to the fact that Iowa’s colleges were in session and not on their winter break as in past elections. And The New York Times pulled it out to connote the Democratic Party’s use of crowdfunding to raise money.
Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark’s latest book, “Doubletalk: The Language, Code, and Jargon of a Presidential Election,” has just been released. They write their “Speaking Politics” blog exclusively for Politics Voices.