A 2016 Campaign Anthem: Isn’t It Ironic?

© Drimi | Dreamstime.com — Alanis Morissette Tour 2012

If you lived through the 1992 election, you probably remember Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” It was the mood music of Bill Clinton’s campaign, and after the Arkansas governor’s win, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood even suspended a personal feud to get the band back together and perform at the inaugural ball.

Of course, Bill Clinton wasn’t the first musical candidate — since the early days of our nation, presidential contenders have used songs to build their brands and energize their events. And this election season is no exception.

Donald Trump often walks to the stage with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blaring, while Bernie Sanders prefers Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.” At her launch, Hillary Clinton’s supporters were treated to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” and Ted Cruz’s patriots enjoyed Aaron Tippin’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” after the senator won Iowa. And then there is John Kasich, who recently created a Twitter Moment when he said he wanted to add Justin Bieber’s music to his rallies.

These songs may fit each candidate, but none quite captures the zeitgeist of the 2016 race like Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit that famously asked “Isn’t It Ironic?”

Now, if you’re a music buff, you probably know there’s a dispute about whether Ms. Morissette’s song lyrics are actually ironic. Whether you are in the pro-irony camp, the no-irony camp, or no camp at all, this much is certain — the song is a fitting anthem for the 2016 election.

Here are seven of its best-known lyrics mashed up with some of the campaign’s oddest twists, strangest turns, and most ironic things:

1. Donald Trump is like rain on the GOP’s wedding day.

This is an election in which the GOP should have the advantage. Enter Donald Trump. A New York billionaire with a liberal history is leading the Republican race. He’s broken with party orthodoxy, left the famous post-2012 RNC autopsy in shambles, and has the worst image ratings of any presidential candidate in polling history. To heap irony on top of irony, Trump’s unshakeable base includes a large number of working class voters, most of whom are very angry at New York billionaires.

2. Ted Cruz is a black fly in the establishment’s Chardonnay.

The idea that the junior senator from Texas is the establishment favorite is almost unfathomable. His colleague Lindsey Graham once said the choice between Trump and Cruz was “like being shot or poisoned.” Graham chose poison. So have Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and many others. Of course, in December, Cruz tweeted:

Today, the #irony hashtag seems an appropriate postscript.

3. Running for president was the good advice that Elizabeth Warren just didn’t take.

Photo by Elvert Barnes under CC BY-SA

Most of the progressive movement wanted Senator Elizabeth Warren to seek the Democratic nomination. The Boston Globe editorial board and Bill Clinton’s labor secretary called for her to enter the race. There was even a campaign-in-waiting assembled by organizations like Ready for Warren and Run Warren Run. Alas, the senator from Massachusetts decided to pass. She must be kicking herself watching the success of Bernie Sanders. There’s a strong case that she would be winning right now.

4. An old man turned ninety-eight…Bernie Sanders won the lottery and his chances died the next day.

Ok, Bernie Sanders is not 98. But he won the lottery when Elizabeth Warren decided not to run and the progressive movement coalesced around him. He’s a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who’s been in Congress for 25 years, during which he has authored three bills that have become law (two to rename post offices). And yet somehow Sanders has won 18 states, garnered millions of votes, and put Hillary Clinton on her heels. It’s an amazing feat. But thanks to the Democratic superdelegate system, a Sanders’ victory was essentially mathematically impossible from the beginning.

5. A traffic jam when Jeb was already late.

Jeb Bush was a great governor. Jeb Bush could be a great president. But in life, timing is everything. Jeb’s best window for running for president was during or right after his time as the successful chief executive of Florida (1999–2006). Of course, with his brother running in 2000 and 2004 and the country not ready for another Bush in 2008, that window was firmly shut. When Jeb announced in 2015, he subsequently ran into a traffic jam of 16 other candidates, many of whom were in his lane. He never got the one-on-one with Trump that might have allowed his candidacy to flourish.

6. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all Ben Carson needs is a knife.

Ben Carson says that when he was 14, he tried to stab a friend with a camping knife. Donald Trump didn’t believe him and in a bizarre reenactment of the alleged incident, Trump accused Carson of making it up, called him pathological, and seemingly compared the good doctor to a child molester. Despite these and other attacks, Carson endorsed Trump. But Carson’s not heaping spoons full of sugar on the GOP frontrunner. A series of ambivalent comments recently led CBS News to ask:

7. It’s a free ride when the super PACs have already paid.

In March 2015, Time Magazine ran a piece entitled “How Super PACs Are Taking Over” and a few months later the Associated Press said “their influence in selecting the next president will be without precedent.” Fast-forward a year and those proclamations look laughable. Hundreds of millions of dollars in super PAC advertising has had little to no impact on the race. Trump has earned $2 billion in free media. Sanders is sustaining his campaign through small-dollar contributions. Free media and the grassroots have swamped the advertising spending of super PACs.


There are more lines about tragedy, coincidence, and irony from the hit song. And there’s so much more campaign material. Hillary Clinton’s plan to be more spontaneous. The strange embrace of Trump by Breitbart, Chris Christie and others. President Obama’s lecture to the media on their failure to push candidates for more access. Mitt Romney on tax returns. And we have miles to go until Election Day.

Of course, the remaining candidates — and possibly some who have not run — are hoping that the campaign will end for them just as the song does:

“And life has a funny way of helping you out
Helping you out.”

Michael Shannon is a partner at the brand and policy consultancy Vianovo and served as a strategist for media and polling on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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