What is the real role of the campaign spokesperson?

In today’s issue of The Jolt newsletter from National Review’s Jim Geraghty (you can subscribe here if you don’t already get it), he poses an interesting question regarding the ubiquitous “campaign spokespersons” who litter the airwaves throughout election season. What purpose do these well coiffed servants of our candidates serve aside from helping to fill the endless hours of 24/7 cable news programming until we finally get down to the business of voting? Jim eloquently sums up their job as being, to lie shamelessly and passionately.

I’m sure some of us would like to pretend outrage at that in the hopes that the election has a bit more meaning to the nation, but let’s face it. He’s right. Jim goes on to provide an example.

David Martosko of the Daily Mail watched Hillary Clinton give a speech on September 9, the day she was diagnosed with pneumonia. His conclusion was, “I half expect her to slump over and collapse any second now. if she were doing a parody of “low energy” Jeb!, it couldn’t be more spot-on.”

Nick Merrill, Clinton’s traveling press secretary, snapped, “Delete your account.” Longtime Clinton aide Adam Parkhomenko fumed, “You shouldn’t have a job in the morning.”

Now we know, Martosko was right. He was telling his readers the truth. He was observing her accurately, and her campaign lashed out at him for doing so. A modern presidential campaign is a giant effort to gaslight as many people as possible, to get them to not see anything that could be bad for the candidate, and to convince them that they’ve seen something wonderful for the candidate.

What we’re observing on a daily basis is absolutely a gaslighting campaign which never ends. I’d love to say that it’s useless because the people are generally such a group of obviously partisan hacks (on both sides) that their contributions should be discounted by the undecided voter, but that may not be true. Voters who don’t immerse themselves in political news every hour of every day may only be tuning in on occasion and have a limited pool of information to draw on. What are they taking away from these interviews?

There’s also a question of who is “officially” speaking for the candidates. I’m not sure where one lands a job as an official spokesperson, but each party has a fleet of them, with several taking alternating shifts on all the cable news networks. For the Clinton team the role is often filled by Brian Fallon. But how official are their statements? They get into long winded discussions which often run far afield from the original news item being examined. Surely each and every syllable they utter isn’t pre-approved by the candidate. At what point does it become their own opinion rather than doctrine from the candidate?

Finally, there’s another category of gaslight specialist… the candidate “supporter.” You see them all the time. They speak with the same fluidity (or at least the campaigns hope they do) and generally recite the same talking points, but they’re apparently not on the official payroll. For the Democrats, one of the most commonly seen figures is Maria Cardona who is on CNN more often most of their field reporters combined. She’s always listed as a “Hillary Clinton supporter” and will defend each and every item where Clinton is called into question. How “official” are her remarks? Is Hillary Clinton held accountable for them?

Here’s something to consider for the next election cycle: what say we don’t allow anyone to comment on any campaign in an official capacity or formulate the candidates’ messages unless they have a title and a pay stub from the campaign? Food for thought, anyway.


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