The Washington Post

The “what have you done for me lately” reality of modern presidential politics

"Politics today has a shorter memory than ever," New York Times' columnist Frank Bruni wrote in a piece over the weekend. "It also has a more furious metabolism."

Janet Jackson was right.

Bruni was writing specifically about Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential prospects and how the former Florida governor has largely stayed out of that political media/political-media churn since he did a series of interviews to promote a book in the spring.

But, Bruni's observation is true well beyond what Bush is (or, more accurately, isn't) doing to draw attention to himself and his potential candidacy in 2016. The rise of Twitter as the lingua franca of the political class, the proliferation of cable channels dedicating hours (and hours) to political coverage, and the blogs and blogs and blogs that parse -- and then re-parse -- every word uttered in the political sphere create a sort of "what have you done for me lately" aspect to managing to a candidate's profile that has never existed before. Marco Rubio is the hottest thing in Republican politics until he isn't anymore. Ditto Bobby Jindal. Storylines surge, plateau and are forgotten.

Politicians and their campaign teams are, not surprisingly, working to exploit the media's desire for new news at every turn. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's operation puts out You Tube clips on the regular -- yes, we just typed that -- that are aimed at bolstering his tough-but-fair personality. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are constantly throwing out tidbits to the media to keep their names actively in the mix at all times.

Then there is the case of Hillary Clinton who, as NBC's "First Read" noted Monday, has been remarkably active in the first eight months of 2013 -- giving speeches (or planning to give speeches) on things like voting rights and national security even as a super PAC dedicated to clearing the way for Clinton's 2016 bid adds on a series of big-name advisers.

When it comes to Clinton, it seems as though there is always some new tidbit about what she is doing or where she is going in the news. Check out this chart on the number of Google searches for "Hillary Clinton and 2016" over the last 90 days.

The truth of the modern political media environment is that too much coverage is almost always a good thing. The origins of coverage day in and day out tends to originate from a sort of "what's buzzing" question that is almost always determined by the sheer volume of chatter out there on a given candidate or given subject.

Throwing a bunch of chum into the water then -- an unfortunate but accurate metaphor -- is the best way to keep your name in the coverage stream and ensure you are part of the daily story.  Also, taking proactive steps to influence coverage decreases the chances of taking massive amounts of incoming negative stories that could derail a candidacy before it even gets started. (See McDonnell, Bob.)

Of course, politicians like Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton don't need to play this game nearly as actively as lesser known candidate who need to use this run-up period to build buzz around them. But, Clinton's activity this far in front of a 2016 bid suggests that no politician is immune from the need to play the "what have you done for me lately" game.

Remember: The best politicians are the ones who, rather than complaining about the ever-changing culture of the media-political complex, adapt and use those new rules to their advantage.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained
Next Story
Chris Cillizza · August 20, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.