Gaffe Track: Hillary, Carly, and a Strange Reaction to Strangulation

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The candidate: Hillary Clinton

The gaffe: The Democrat was stumping in New Hampshire on Tuesday when a man in the audience asked a question about Carly Fiorina. “Every time I see her on TV, I want to reach through and strangle her,” he said. “I wouldn’t mess with you!” Clinton replied, cackling.

The defense: She’s right: You don’t want to mess with a guy who’s already discussed strangling another candidate.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): If you’re a candidate for president, you can’t just laugh and crack a joke when someone discusses strangling one of your Republican rivals. That’s especially true given the sexist jabs lobbed at Fiorina already in this campaign. Violence against women isn’t funny.

The lesson: Choking in the clutch when someone makes a strangulation joke may draw suffocatingly negative scrutiny.