Nominee-in-waiting

I heard this phrase for the first time on NPR today. I’m not sure if it was NPR or my affiliate (big, as they say, ups, to Minnesota Public Radio) that made this call, but they referred to John McCain as the “nominee-in-waiting.”

The problem of how to refer to John McCain is not that bad, but I think that news organizations try to be as precise as possible. He’s in a different place, sorta, than either Hillary or Barack, he’s on the top of the Republican mountain, so to speak. Once we get a democratic nominee, I think we’ll hear lots more of “the republican candidate for president” and “the democratic candidate for president”.

But for now, he’s the “nominee-in-waiting” or the “presumptive nominee”.

Now, William Safire, of horribly uncomfortable Daily Show interview fame, rants about people calling McCain the “presumptive nominee”:

”Presumptive nominee” is not incorrect, but connotation counts; presumptive strikes me as presumptuous. I like ”expected, likely, probable,” even ”odds on.”

There’s “nominee-to-be” which reminds us of wedding bells. (Can I give him away?)

I think that I hear “likely GOP nominee John McCain” most often, followed by “presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.”

But never, until this afternoon, “nominee-in-waiting.” I googled it and came up with a bunch of news stories that used the phrase, from CBS to MSNBC to the Boston Globe.

It’s modeled after “lady-in-waiting” which doesn’t really mean “a lady who’s waiting”, and it really doesn’t mean “a lady who’s waiting to be a lady”.

But that’s what “nominee-in-waiting” seems to mean, mutatis mutandis.

“Lady-in-waiting” really means this, according to Wikipedia:

A lady-in-waiting is a female personal assistant at a noble court, attending to a queen, a princess or other noblewoman. A lady-in-waiting is often a noblewoman of lower rank (i.e., a lesser noble) than the one she attends to, and is not considered a servant.

“Nominee-in-waiting” then, should mean something like a Romney or Pawlenty, who are both “lesser nobles” willing to lend their presumptive nominee a hand.

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8 Responses to “Nominee-in-waiting”


  1. 1 Liz Coppock April 10, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Good point! I liked nominee-in-waiting until you pointed out the lack of parallelism with lady-in-waiting. Presumptive nominee does sound presumptuous. Nominee-to-be reminds us of wedding bells, indeed. I guess wedding bells are nice at least. “Nominee-elect John McCain” gets 1430 hits. That one works, doesn’t it? He’s been elected, but it’s not official yet?

  2. 2 ishum April 11, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    That’s a lot of e’s in a row. And what’s important about the phrase “president-elect” is that it distinguishes the person who just won the election from the person who still currently holds the office. There’s no “lame duck” nominee whose job John McCain is waiting to take.

    How ’bout we just call him grampa simpson instead: http://z.about.com/d/politicalhumor/1/0/4/-/2/mccain_simpsons_2008.jpg

  3. 3 Liz Coppock April 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I don’t think there has to be a “lame duck” X for X-elect to make sense, although I will cede that there may be that connotation. It’s the same kind of distinction that people are trying to make — elected, but not yet really it. Another use of the -elect suffix without a lame duck is “bride-elect”, according to the internet. 91,000 hits. (Do people elect their brides?)

  4. 4 ishum April 12, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    I guess “elect” in the sense of “choose”. So -elect meaning chosen, but isn’t just yet, sure, I’m down.

    Bride-elect? That’s just crazy. You’d need an “election” first, in which you, the groom, would be “voting” among various candidates – oh! the brunette has been polling well these last few weeks, but leggy blondes have historically been able to count on this crucial male demographic. We’ll just have to wait and see how this whole thing plays out, won’t we? Back to you, bob.

  5. 5 Liz Coppock April 14, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    Well. One does choose a bride :-).

  6. 6 Liz Coppock April 14, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    By the way, “elected nominee” is also problematic in connotation — this stands in contrast with “selected nominee” (which Hilary Clinton is being accused of asking to become), rather than “official nominee”.

  7. 7 ishum April 14, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Totally –
    the verb we should be using with nominees is not “elect” or “select” or “choose” – it’s fricking nominate!

  8. 8 Liz Coppock April 14, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    But…. the election process is part of the nomination process… they’re separate… So you could be elected without being nominated, as John McCain is. Am I wrong?


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