Kirsten Gillibrand has a secret debate attack. And she'll tell you what it is!
(CNN)Kirsten Gillibrand has a secret. Do you want to know what it is? OK, she's tell you!
"We have Democratic candidates running for president right now who do not believe necessarily that it's a good idea that women work outside the home No joke," she said late last week in Iowa.
Oooh! Intrigue! So, who is it? Gillibrand won't say. "Ms. Gillibrand did not name names, and her campaign would not say whom she was referring to," according to The New York Times.
What's weird is that Gillibrand is doing all of this BEFORE her appearance in Wednesday night's CNN-sponsored presidential debate in Detroit. A debate where she will appear alongside former Vice President Joe Biden as well as these other candidates: Sens. Michael Bennet (Colorado), Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California) as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Gov. Jay Inslee (Washington) and businessman Andrew Yang.
It seems very unlikely that another woman made a statement suggesting that women shouldn't work outside the home. Which eliminates two people from Wednesday's debate stage right off the bat -- and leaves us with seven potential suspects. (It's not clear -- at least to me -- if Gillibrand is talking about one candidate who said this or several who did. One seems more likely, at least to me.)
Of those seven men, there are very few who have been in public life long enough to say anything even close to what Gillibrand is saying they might have said. A statement like she is alleging would have created a major controversy even as recently as the 1990s -- and rightly so.
Then we have this amazing reporting from Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alexi McCammond:
"An account on the site newspapers.com that appears to be linked to [Gillibrand's] campaign has been gathering news articles about the former vice president's stance on the child tax credit in the '80s. (The newspaper.com account and related Twitter account appear to have been taken down after we approached the Gillibrand campaign for comment.)"
Huh! Mystery solved-ish?
Here's the thing -- beyond who the unnamed person or person are -- that I don't get about Gillibrand's attack: Why telegraph it days in advance?
The efficacy of Harris' first-debate attack on Joe Biden's voting record on school busing was that the former vice president never saw it coming. He was totally flummoxed because he was caught off-guard. Harris had the element of surprise!
Does Gillibrand think that Biden -- or whoever the mystery candidate in her unnamed attack is -- doesn't read The New York Times? And won't somehow see the overt telegraphing of the hit, and, therefore, be ready with a response?
Gillibrand isn't the only one following this odd "I-am-going-to-tell-you-exactly-where-I-am-planning-to-punch-you-in-the-gut-in-two-days'-time" strategy. Last week(!), allies of former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke started telling reporters that their candidate was itching to go after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the debate. (The two men will be on stage in the first night debate -- Tuesday night.)
And it's not only that O'Rourke plans to attack Buttigieg that we now know, but also on what! This, from CNN last week, is remarkable:
"'The biggest thing is the donors,' the [O'Rourke] source said, a reference to Buttigieg's raising money through pricey fundraisers. O'Rourke has held fundraisers, but relies largely on his massive email list and rejects money from all political action committees.
"The second is an argument that the 'technocratic fixing of the country cannot be done simply through a McKinsey lens' -- a jab at Buttigieg's years spent with the consulting firm."
Like, dude, why? Buttigieg and his people watch cable TV and read newspapers. They are now going to be ready for a full-frontal assault on his donors and his work as a consultant. Unless this is an elaborate plot by the O'Rourke people to take Buttigieg's attention away from a much more damaging attack on some as-of-yet-unknown hit on the mayor, it is a very dumb strategy.
The theory behind all of this -- I guess -- is that by previewing the attack, you get coverage for it in advance of the debate and then in post-debate analysis as well. Two bites at the apple and all that.
But here's the thing: If by telegraphing your attack, you allow your opponent a ready counterattack in response, that will be the big story -- not your initial attack. And that's turning a victory into a defeat.