In a room full of young people, Anthony Weiner tried his best. But despite the 21st-century nature of Weiner’s “digital sins,” in the words of his interviewer, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, the mayoral candidate could not connect on a human level with those who understand his technology faux pas best. Instead, at tonight’s edition of the BuzzFeed Brews political sit-down series, Weiner fended off Internet-friendly questions, often barely hiding his disdain, and only really seemed comfortable when relying on his stump speech.
Smith didn’t make it easy. “When we booked this interview, you were in first place in the polls,” he began. “A poll out today from Siena says 75 percent of New Yorkers now have a negative opinion of you, which is worse than Bill Clinton when it came out that he cheated on his wife with an intern.” Weiner, drinking what looked more like an extra-creamy iced coffee than a brew, responded, “The coverage has been fairly brutal.” The awkwardness of their exchange, at least in the sexting portion of the evening, could also be described accurately as brutal.
At one point, Smith, speaking for his millennial staff, asked flat out why Weiner didn’t just use Snapchat, which specializes in disappearing images, for his naughty time. “I don’t have a good answer to that,” said Weiner, who seemed tired of answering for the ordeal from every angle.
In other moments, the candidate at least tried to play along. When Smith brought up Weiner’s old pal Jon Stewart, promising to ask about stop-and-frisk “soon,” Weiner replied, “You can do this or show videos of cats, or whatever it is you do at BuzzFeed.” It was a canned comeback, and although it elicited a reaction from the meme-thirsty audience, didn’t accomplish much else.
When he wasn’t fighting, Weiner tried contrition. He said he still sees a therapist “from time to time,” and that while his wife Huma Abedin is “helping out every day” on the campaign, he knows he “hurt her professionally, hurt her personally.” Asked if he knows what role Abedin will play in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Weiner said, “I do. I’m not telling you.”
On the issues Weiner was confident and coherent, but that’s not his problem. As with the sexting questions, which he’s heard so many times at this point, Weiner had no sufficient answer when given the chance to explain how he’s going to crawl back. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Weiner said. That doesn’t feel like enough anymore.