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I came across this question while practicing for a test. The question is

Only by overlooking the grievances frequently expressed by her constituency could the incumbent think that the pandering advertisements would do anything but ______ her campaign.

We have to fill in the blank with two similar meaning words where the options were

  1. bolster 2. aggrieve 3. encourage 4. hobble 5. hamstring 6. restore

So my attempt was : I thought that "do anything but" means it would do anything except to "support" or "bolster" the campaign. But the correct answers are hobble and hamstring , which means that "do anything but" phrase should mean opposite of what I was thinking.

Please explain me the usage of "do anything but" .

Thanks

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    What discipline is involved in this test? English? Politics? – J. Taylor Feb 5 '17 at 14:19
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    The idea expressed in the sentence is complicated. You are right that the advertisements would 'do anything but' support the campaign. What we are told, though, is that the candidate would have to ignore her own unpopularity to think that advertisements would help her, that is 'do anything but' harm her campaign. – Kate Bunting Feb 6 '17 at 10:04
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Start with the stripped meaning: If her constituency sees her advertisements as pandering to them, then the advertisements will harm (= hobble or hamstring) her campaign. She would be deluding herself to think otherwise, perhaps by overlooking the grievances. They can only be bad — and not anything except bad — while she could imagine by mistake that they would be good.

Bad ads must cause an effect that is bad and nothing different from that bad effect.

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