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December 6 Time magazine carries the following clip of Mark Halperin’s remark in MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe” under the Lede, “The Hillary Clinton Republican Primary.”

“You talk to Republicans about ’16, and obviously people are already talking about it. For a lot of Republicans, now, what people are auditioning for is can you beat Hillary Clinton? If you don’t have the premise of beating her, the stature to beat her, the fundraising to beat her, Republicans say, “No need to apply,” because that is, right now, the prism they’re looking at.”

To me as a foreign reader, the title looks like as if Republicans are led by Hillary Clinton at the first sight, though it's utterly impossible. If Japan Times puts, "The Koizumi (one of the most popular former prime ministers) Democratic Party (the opposition party) leader election," we'll be confused.

Is this a reasonable way of summation which is too obvious to native English speakers?

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Hillary Clinton in the headline is functioning as an adjective. To answer the question in your title, I needed the context to figure out what the headline meant. –  J.R. Dec 7 '12 at 11:50
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It is not immensely clear (I am not a native) but reading it, I could easily guess what it means: Next primary, the republicans will likely suggest HC as presidential candiate –  mplungjan Dec 7 '12 at 12:28
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It was not obvious to me. I thought it was simply incongruous. The passage os full of poorly expressed metaphors (looking at a prism?). –  Mitch Dec 7 '12 at 13:10
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@mplungjan: Actually, it means the Republicans anticipate running against HC in the next presidential election. –  J.R. Dec 7 '12 at 14:38
    
@Mitch: Prisms refract light and make things appear different from the way they really are, so the metaphor is apt, but maybe it should be "because that is, right now, the prism they’re looking through". –  user21497 Dec 7 '12 at 14:47
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Apparently the writer is trying to say that the next Republican primary will be all about Hillary Clinton, that is, about how to beat Hillary Clinton. But the most obvious reading of the title is that it is a meeting of Republicans who are led by Hillary Clinton. Of course this makes no sense as Hillary Clinton is not a Republican and is unlikely to become a Republican anytime soon. Maybe the writer did this on purpose so that people seeing the headline would do a double-take, "Hillary Clinton Republicans? What is he talking about?", and read the article. Or maybe the headline was just poorly worded. If I was trying to convey that idea, I would be more likely to write, "The 'Beat Hillary Clinton' Republican Primary" or "The Anti-Hillary Clinton Republican Primary".

BTW I think the article is mostly the Hillary Clinton and Her Friends Fantasy Scenario. I read many pundits on both sides and this is the first time I've heard anyone say that they think Mrs Clinton is the obvious and inevitable 2016 Democrat nominee. She is one of many names being discussed. This sounds like the typical bandwagon argument: You get all your friends to say, "Of course everyone knows that ..." and hope that people believe that this is, indeed, a commonly accepted fact and so there is no need for them to think about it for themselves. But I'm getting off-topic.

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I didn’t come to the thought that the writer tried to give a double-take of the title on purpose. The alternative lede I first conceived after reading the text was “Anti-Hillary Clinton Republican Primary.” But I think “Beat Hillary Clinton Republican Primary” is much clear than “Hillary Clinton Republican Primary” –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 7 '12 at 21:12
    
Cont. because Mark Helperin complements in the clip in the subsequent version (Dec. 8), “The Hillary Clinton Republican Primary (Cont.) that “The reason why the Hillary Clinton thing is such a big challenge for them is there’s no doubt about Hillary Clinton. ―It’s an extraordinary task and if you’re going up against Hillary Clinton.” –  Yoichi Oishi Dec 8 '12 at 22:42
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This year's Republican primary was all about who was going to be able to beat Barack Obama. People who supported that point of view did not support the idea that the primary was supposed to be a winnowing process to select the one candidate who best represented the Republican Party's values and policies. That this is true is evident from the way the GOP treated Mitt Romney both before and after the election. He got no respect, and the only reason he won the nomination, it seems, was that he seemed to be the sanest and least toxic candidate running for the office of POTUS -- I make that statement not to be partisan (I didn't vote for anyone because I don't live in the USA and because it doesn't matter to me who runs the country in cahoots with the big multinational corporations) but to summarize what both the media and the Republican pundits were saying about Romney and his rivals.

The phrase “The Hillary Clinton Republican Primary” doesn't suggest to me at all that Hillary Clinton leads the GOP, and the "The" in front of her name doesn't change for me the meaning of the phrase. It simply makes it clear that this is the name of the primary because many members of the GOP believe that Hillary Clinton will run for POTUS in 2016. She may, and she may win if she does, but it's far too soon to build a political strategy on this possibility alone. The author is making a serious dig at the GOP for being so narrow-minded and so swayed by yet another straw poll measuring the American public's political preferences at the moment.

Even foreign readers interested in American politics should be aware of this. I don't know anything about Halperin except for what I read in the last five minutes, but he seems not to be a terribly responsible journalist. I don't know what his political views are and don't care. But if what he says about some Republicans talking about the 2016 POTUS election is true, then his phrase seems apt.

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Exactly. And the suggestion in the headline is intended to create the momentary sense of "that's impossible!" which OP experienced. Headlines are advertisements for the articles they head, designed to grab the reader's attention. –  StoneyB Dec 7 '12 at 13:00
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