‘First Family’, declares the cover of this week’s TIME, as Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten gaze at the camera, dressed in blue jeans, brown belts and tucked-in button-downs.
TIME has only been going since 1923 – a full 95 years younger than The Spectator – but in that time, it’s sought to position itself as something of a political Nostradamus. Hey, if you’ve got to fill the void between the TIME 100 and Person of the Year somehow, why not wildly guess who the next president will be?
But how often do those tipped by the magazine rise to glory? Cockburn peered through the archives to discover…not frequently at all.
Hillary Clinton has featured on several TIME covers in the past 30 years…yet, as some may need reminding, she has never won the presidency. ‘Love her, hate her: the presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton’, read the August 28, 2006 edition. ‘What Hillary believes, and why she thinks she’ll win’, they cried on November 19, 2007. ‘Can anyone stop Hillary?’, they asked on January 27, 2014. Turns out…yes they can.
Hillary’s rival for the 2016 nomination, Bernie Sanders, was also anointed by TIME. ‘Socialize this, America’, they declared on September 28, 2015. On June 6, 2016, they wondered ‘How far will Bernie go?’…right before the DNC flexed their superdelegates.
They blundered on the Republican side of the 2016 race too. ‘Likable enough? Not so fast Donald. Ted Cruz has a plan,’ TIME’s cover read on April 18, 2016. How’s the plan going, Ted? In earlier years they had described Rand Paul as ‘the most interesting man in politics’, dubbed Chris Christie ‘the elephant in the room…who can win over the GOP’ and hailed Marco Rubio as ‘the Republican savior’.
In fact, TIME have been picking duds for most of the 21st century. On September 26, 2011, they chronicled ‘the rise of Rick Perry’. Later that year on December 11, Mitt Romney was apparently asking ‘why don’t they like me?’ In the next issue on January 16, 2012, Romney is saying ‘so you like me now?’
‘Can John McCain keep rising?’ the magazine asked on February 4, 2008, naming him ‘the phoenix’. It recalled a cover from eight years previously, when on February 14 they had described ‘the McCain mutiny: inside the campaign that turned the GOP race upside down’. In July 2004, John Kerry and John Edwards were ‘the contenders’…but in January TIME were asking ‘who is the real Dean?’
Their form continues back into the late Nineties. ‘Does Gore have what it takes?’ TIME wondered on December 15, 1997. Bill Bradley was ‘the man who could beat Gore’ on October 4, 1999. ‘…and then there was Dole’, the magazine mused on November 20, 1995, two weeks after championing how Pat Buchanan ‘wields the most lethal weapon in Campaign 96: Scapegoat Politics.’
Even a stopped clock tells the right TIME twice a day: as a result of their guesswork, you can find covers questioning whether Bill Clinton is ‘for real’ back in January 1992 and wondering about ‘President Bush?’ on June 21, 1999. Prior to issues pushing history came one on October 23, 2006 which described ‘why Barack Obama could be the next president’, and 11 months before his election they were detailing ‘how Trump won’. But if Pete Buttigieg is looking for signs that his campaign has got legs, he’d be better off looking at the polls in Iowa than at the cover of TIME magazine. Besides, they’ll probably feature Joe Biden again next week.