Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight; or, The Symmetries of Politicking

There is no point in hiding my personal preferences regarding this presidential election, but this blog seeks to take an ironic distance on the media scene that surrounds it.  And so two reminders that US Presidential elections often mobilize symmetrical elements.

19finalbiographpicturecatalogmckinleyathomeMy first example is drawn from the 1896 election when the cinema was brand new.  The two major American motion pictures entities in the fall of 1896 were the Biograph company, owned by a number of Republicans including Abner McKinley–the brother of Republican presidential candidate William McKinley, and the Vitascope Company in alliance with the Edison Manufacturing Company.  Biograph filmed McKinley at Home and premiered it in the company’s official debut program at Hammerstein’s Olympia Music Hall on October 12th.  The screening was sponsored by the Republican National Committee, and many powerful Republicans filled the theater to cheer their standard bearer.  Although the Edison group was also pro-McKinley in principle, commercial expediency forced them to promote Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan by filming Bryan Train Scene at Orange, NJ.  The two films were shot two days apart.  Bryan’s operatives had arranged for their candidate to stop in Orange, NJ for a photo-op that the Edison team could not afford to ignore.  McKinley was filmed first, but the Vitascope Company could have easily gotten Bryan Train Scene at Orange, NJ into vaudeville theaters first.  But they failed–almost certainly due to political sabotage.  (It appeared on New York screens exactly one week later but with little fanfare.) One question is: How did the Democrats find out about the plans to film McKinley, so they could respond so quickly? Did they have a mole in the Biograph Company? Had Vitascope partner Norman Raff, who was from McKinley’s hometown of Canton, Ohio, try to film McKinley but was denied access?  Despite the Democrats quick response, they were  completely outplayed by the Republicans in this battle of the motion pictures.

My second example is a contemporary one: Donald Trump’s campaign has formed an alliance with Gennifer Flowers while Hillary Clinton has befriended Alicia Machado.  Hillary has played it cool in the face of the Donald’s amazingly rude and ultimately quite
gennifer-flowersaliciamachadopanteradespicable threat to invite Flowers to attend the first debate and place her in the first row.  (For those who forget, Flowers had a longstanding affair with Clinton back in his days as Governor of Arkansas.) In contrast, when Hillary evoked Machado in their first debate, Trump lost his cool––not only during their TV exchanges but on Twitter later in the week.  The resulting displays of misogyny may well contribute to his undoing, but what might interest us at least for the moment is the symmetry.
In May 2016, as it became clear that DJT was going to be the Republican nominee and HRC was going to be his Democratic rival, Gennifer Flowers opened a new Twitter account (she had closed an old one several years earlier). We should assume that the Clinton camp was keeping tabs on Ms. Flowers, since she had been used as a political weapon against the Clintons in the past and was likely to pop up somewhere again.screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-5-34-06-amTrump’s operatives, we can only assume, were reintroducing Gennifer Flowers to the public, waiting for the right moment to use her in the campaign. That same month an old article in Murdoch’s Daily Mail was updated.

This updated article gained little traction when it appeared, but that changed in the week leading up to the debate when Trump threatened to have Flowers attend as his guest––and she tweeted her acceptance.   In the resulting firestorm of news stories, the Daily Mail profile of Flowers enjoyed renew attention. The on-line journal The Frisky was one of many to jump in:

These days, Flowers writes a sex advice column, “Ask Mistress Gennifer” for, a website dedicated to the lad mag publisher Bob Guccione. There she writes about topics posed by readers, like “I want my boyfriend to dominate me” and “My girlfriend wants me to get circumcised.”  If you follow Mistress Gennifer’s sex tips, you might experience a little bit of Bubba “I’m going to have to thank Bill for some of the advice I’m going to be giving. It will be based on experiences I had with him,” she said. “Really, he taught me a lot.”

Incidentally I have not been able to find “Ask Mistress Gennifer” and is a long dead website. The big “news” that Trump’s operatives were apparently eager to share: Bill and Hill have a kind of arrangement or understanding about his extra-marital affairs because Hillary is bi-sexual. The implication––never quite stated––is that Hillary and Huma (Anthony Weiner’s soon to be ex-) have a thing.

Was it coincidence that Alicia Machado became a US citizen in May 2016 and then became an active Hillary supporter the following month? Trump does not think so.
screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-43-56-am Hillary may well be familiar with the expression, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” Machado was a Miss Universe when Trump was running the show, and the two had a difficult relationship and ultimately a falling out.  As reported in Wikipedia:

“She has spoken out many times against Donald Trump, who, during her year as Miss Universe, she claims called her “Miss Piggy” because she gained weight and “Miss Housekeeping” because of her Hispanic background.[3] Trump said: “She was impossible” and that “[s]he was the winner and you know, she gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, her attitude, and we had a real problem with her.”[

Trump was not prepared for pro-Machado remarks during the debate.  In this respect, Hillary used surprise to her advantage.  And as is well-know at this point–Trump started tweeting about the two of them early in the morning of Sept 30th–the day I was on my way to Italy for my book launch (October 4th is the official pub date).

HRC was impressive in the first debate, and she came out on top in the Flowers vs. Machado match up. Trump’s misogyny and his disdain for Latinos were on full display. Nevertheless, it says something about the state of American politics when these two women–both of whom were center folds in Playboy–are at the center of  a presidential campaign that is just one month away from Election Day.  Certainly it gives the lie to the fact that the Donald is a good negotiator and deal maker.  On one hand, Machado was his employee: apparently he failed to have her sign a nondisclosure agreement.  On the other Hillary completely outmaneuvered him.

The Republican candidate would have been wise to remember the 18th century maxim, “Hell has not fury like a woman scorned.”







Politicking on Twitter with Gennifer Flowers

Stop Right Here:


For one moment, let’s just forget the content of the above Tweet. The tweet and so Twitter should interest us as a phenomenon in and of itself.  The social media of choice for Barack Obama was YouTube. So let me quote the first paragraph from my book Politicking and Emergent Media:

In 2008 Barack Obama utilized the new possibilities of the Internet far more effectively than did his rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain, giving the young Senator a crucial edge in the Democratic nominating process and general election. For example: After suffering unexpected defeat in the New Hampshire primary, Obama delivered an inspirational speech on live television in the late evening: “Yes We Can.” Although this address to his disheartened supporters went largely unseen due to the late hour and the many competing campaign narratives of the day, his campaign organization immediately reposted the broadcast to the candidate’s YouTube channel, where it became an Internet phenomenon. Its impact was further augmented by Will.I.Am’s immensely popular “Yes We Can” music video, which echoed Obama’s New Hampshire oratory as an array of performers voiced what may be the most potent campaign song in US political history. This speech is often said to have propelled Obama to the nomination and ultimately the presidency, but it was the Internet that made that possible. Likewise, Obama supporters from around the world expressed their heartfelt enthusiasm for his candidacy on the Internet, usually in song. This ran the gamut from a popular video showing members of Obama for Obama––a group from Obama, Fukui, in Japan––joyously singing “O-B-A-M-A OBAMA!” to a YouTube posting by a young Swedish woman of Finnish ethnicity who was working in the United Kingdom as a nanny: alone in her small, underfurnished room in the early hours of the morning, she sang a song to celebrate his nomination. It would barely receive 100 views.

Has any one gone on YouTube to look for campaign songs this election? It is hard to imagine someone writing a campaign song to celebrate either Clinton or Trump unless it was tongue in cheek–or they got paid a lot of money.    There were a few music videos for Bernie Sanders––such as the Simon & Garfunkel song America. But even then the song wasn’t written about Sanders.  He lacked a “Yes, We Can” song.  But it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.  Internet energy was headed elsewhere–to Twitter.

Twitter is the social media form of the 2016 election, and Donald Trump is not only the master of it, he is the person who made it the media form of choice.  He has 11.7 million followers–not quite 2 million more than Hillary Clinton. But compare the ways each of the candidates use it.  Whatever you think of Trump, you are getting Trump.  It is first person Twitter.  Hillary’s page is all in the third person. Consider how they just handled two key endorsements:

Clinton was endorsed by the NYTimes: clinton-and-ny-times

Her twitter feed shows it off, but frankly I already knew that she got the Times endorsement.  Nothing new here. What did she think about it? Of course it was a certainty but she could have at least offered up a thanks.

That’s what Trump did when he got an endorsement from Ted Cruz:


Of course, I already knew that Cruz endorsed Trump. But I didn’t know how Trump was reacting to Cruz’s cave-in.  Magnanimously as it turns out.  Having been humiliated and defeated by Trump, Cruz finally pays fealty to his lord and master.  Trump could have dismissed the endorsement with distain, sending Cruz to the coal mines, but he didn’t.  He is generous in victory.  In contrast, Hillary’s twitter feed is like a news aggregator.

But let’s now go back to the first tweet:

My God, Donald Trump is taking the low road even as he goes nuclear.  Bringing Gennifer Flowers to the debate as his special guest: Isn’t that misogynistic? It probably is.  But why at this moment? First, it is a response to the announcement by Mark Cuban that he was going to be Hillary Rodman Clinton’s guest at the Monday debate.



Presumably having Cuban at the debate might unsettle or distract the Donald.  The Texas billionaire is not only a Hillary supporter but in longstanding feud with Trump.  It is interesting that Cuban (with his 5.57 million followers) announced this piece of news–not the Clinton campaign.  Perhaps it was Cuban’s idea?  In any case, it makes her look a little weak.

Trump wants to ensure a favorable debate environment for himself.  He doesn’t need a fellow billionaire in the front row mocking him. In any case, the Donald won’t allow himself to be upstaged. So jujitsu. Gennifer Flowers will get a lot more attention from the press than Cuban. Once again Trump is top dog.  He must have been waiting for a chance to play the Flowers card, and Hillary gave him the opening (it was only a question of time). Will we have both Mark Cuban and Gennifer Flowers in the front row?  Who knows.  Las Vegas has probably established the odds already.  The campaigns are doubtlessly negotiating as we speak.  And it will be interesting because this is the kind of “art of the deal” that Trump savors.  So stay tune.  It should ensure a record breaking audience for the first debate.

But haven’t we forgotten something? Well yes. Certainly this is all a lot more titillating than some boring New York Times endorsement, which is hardly a surprise and barely news.  Isn’t your salacious mind much more inclined to google Gennifer Flowers, reflect on her scandalous past with Bill Clinton and speculate on how upsetting it might be for Presidential candidate Clinton to have her in the front row. Why worry about actual issues and the candidates’ vision for America when we have this political blood sport to watch?  Once again Trump seems on top–doing to Clinton what he did to Cruz.

How does this connect with politics in the late nineteenth century?  Well when Democrat Grover Cleveland was running against Republican James Blaine, he was viciously attacked for an illicit affair and a child born out of wedlock.  Blaine’s supporters ridiculed Cleveland by chanting “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa? After Cleveland won in a squeaker,  his supporters happily responded: “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha.” The Gennifer Flowers card is a powerful one, but it could also backfire.

 More on Flowers in my next post.