Kyrsten Sinema: Expert Troll

The enigmatic Senator is a world-class attention seeker.

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who is competing with her West Virginia colleague Joe Manchin for most frustrating member of the Democratic caucus, wore the above outfit to preside over the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body yesterday and not everyone is happy about it. Many think it’s simply not appropriate to wear such casual dress in such august a locale and it is decidedly against the Capitol’s dress codeoutmoded though it may be.

There were many jokes at Sinema’s expense, many of them tacky. But this one was epic:

I’m sufficiently traditionalist to think Senators ought to wear suits but, all due respect to Aaron Neville, Sinema pulls it off pretty nicely.

And, frankly, in an era when Members of Congress are wearing “Let’s Go Brandon” ball caps to work, I think I’m going to give Sinema a pass.

But I think this helps answer the question I asked a little over a month ago: “What’s Kyrsten Sinema’s Game?” She’s trolling us. She’s a smart, attractive woman who wants attention and is very good at getting it.

The Arizona Republic‘s Bill Goodykoontz has been following her for years and has certainly noticed a trend:

Sinema has refused to back President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill. It’s been high drama and low comedy along the way, with “Saturday Night Live” taking shots at her in two of its first three episodes of the new season. The spotlight is squarely on her.

Sinema is savvy. She knows people are watching.

We get it, senator. You’re a rebel. The “(expletive) off” ring you wore was a pretty solid clue.


This is the most visible member of the Senate who is currently involved in highest-stakes  negotiations on legislation that could shape the future of the country showing up dressed for some kind of Scottsdale version of a biker rally.

Do her clothes matter? Not a bit.

Does whatever message she’s sending matter? Yeah, it does.

It’s possible, though not likely, that Sinema woke up late and grabbed the first piece of clothing she could find on her way to, um, something that would put her squarely in the public eye.

Yeah. Definitely unlikely.

Sinema often uses fashion to make political statements. From the start of her stint in the Senate, in fact, where her outfit made headlines. I described it at the time as “a pink coat worn over a sleeveless white blouse with matching bracelet and flower-print skirt; she also wore a fur-looking thingamajig over her shoulders for the actual swearing-in.”

POLITICO’s Hank Stephenson is even more blunt:

At the national level, though, Sinema’s brand isn’t so much progressive betrayal as raw confusion. When Saturday Night Live parodied Sinema as one of two Democrats opposing President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, the writers knew how to have fun with her biographical details — “as a wine-drinking bisexual triathlete, I know what the average American wants” — and her fashion sense (“all the Scooby Doo characters at the same time”). But when it came to what motivates her, they drew a blank, settling simply on “chaos.”

Chaos isn’t a bad way to describe her impact in Washington right now; she’s not only holding up her own party’s biggest national priority, but she’s famously unclear about her reasons why. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the other most-intransigent Democrat, can’t stop talking about his motives. Sinema isn’t even calling her friends. She’s rocketed into the national zeitgeist as an enigma, one of the least understood politicians in Washington.

Back home, some of her oldest allies — as well as critics — have an insight for the Democrats who are trying to corral her, and it’s not necessarily a comfortable one: Get used to it. Politically, Sinema’s career looks like she experienced a personal revolution; she began as a left-wing agitator and ended up as a Republican-friendly moderate. But in Arizona, many people see those positions as almost beside the point: For them, Sinema is better understood in terms of pure ambition, and the constant triangulation needed to hold office in a purple state that fancies itself charting an independent course, whatever that requires in the moment.

After a longish discourse on her ideological inconsistency and penchant for partnering with folks who seem furthest from her philosophically in order to get bills passed, he notes,

Even among her critics, Sinema is widely regarded as among the savviest political operators in Arizona history. She has the book smarts of a lawyer, the emotional intelligence of a social worker and the determination of a triathlete, because she is all of those things.

Nobody gets to the U.S. Senate without a healthy dose of ambition and hubris. But her detractors say in that regard, too, she’s off the charts: That she’s only ever cared about herself, that she craves the limelight, that she’s abandoned all principles she once held dear in exchange for power.

“Kyrsten is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, if not the most brilliant,” says a former Democratic lawmaker who once was close with her in the legislature and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. That’s what makes her conduct in Washington so disappointing: “I don’t think her motivation for casting the votes that she does today has anything to do with what her actual true beliefs are.”

Instead, the former colleague says her decisions are based on cold hard political calculations — and a need to feed her hunger for attention, more than power even.

“If she lost the Senate race and got a TV show on Fox or whatever, I think she’d be just as happy,” the former lawmaker says. “What she wants is Cecily Strong to play her on SNL. Anyone who thinks that she was insulted by that doesn’t know her.”

If this is indeed her game, she’s winning.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JohnMcC says:

    There are days when I am disoriented by the seismic upheavals in our common, national life. And I remind myself that when I was a little fellow, bland conformity was imagined to be our nation’s fate. Really. There were books like ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ and ‘A Nation of Sheep’. Seriously. I remember it.

    Thank God we avoided that.

  2. JohnSF says:

    So, perhaps not so much a conventional politician, more like a Sinema star?

  3. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF:you should be ashamed.

    I wish I had thought of it first

  4. Chris says:

    Sinema is the Vivien Leigh of politics. She is smart, talented, and driven to succeed on her own incomprehensibly selfish terms. And, like Ms. Leigh and her most famous character, Scarlett O’hara, at some point she will crash and burn in the drama of her own scatological whirlwind.

  5. CSK says:

    So she has much n common with Donald Trump in terms of her need for attention.

  6. Jen says:

    As an introvert of British and German descent, I can’t think of anything I dislike quite as much as attention-seeking behavior.

    As @CSK notes, she’s right up there with TFG with this nonsense. Were the majority not in her clutches, I’d be hoping she would crash and burn ASAP.

    That outfit is awful.

  7. CSK says:

    I’m English (mostly), Irish, German, and Danish. I hate it even worse than you do. 🙂

  8. Raoul says:

    She would not be allowed to play a round of golf in most courses with that outfit but hey she can preside the Senate. (For those not familiar denim is verboten in golf).

  9. Scott F. says:

    Well, at least the country is talking about this woman’s outfit and not the fact that paid family and medical leave is going to be stripped from the Build Back Better bill, leaving the United States as the only industrialized nation in the world without such a mandate. Well played, Krysten.

  10. Erik says:

    And she’ll probably be re-elected. Why? Because a good chunk of the electorate would rather be amused by a reality tv show than have a functional government, and the cast is only too happy to oblige

  11. Mu Yixiao says:

    I believe this is what I said yesterday. 🙂

  12. @Erik: At the rate she is going I think she will lose re-nomination or simply choose not to run again, opting instead for some media-related next career.

  13. My initial response blossomed into a full post.

  14. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “At the rate she is going I think she will lose re-nomination or simply choose not to run again, opting instead for some media-related next career.”

    Wow, will she be easy to run against in a primary. Here’s my first ad (numbers fudged because I’m too lazy to Google): “85% of Arizona Democrats think the government should be allowed to bargain with big drug companies to lower their prices for all of us. 60% of Arizona Republicans think the same thing. Why are drug prices hire than ever before? Because one Arizona Democrat wants them that way. Krysten Sinema refused to vote for Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill unless any reference to drug pricing was removed. And she’s never explained why.

    Maybe the thousands of dollars she’s taken from Big Pharma explains it all…”

  15. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:..she has much n common with Donald Trump
    I wonder if this is on her office wall?

    “When you’ve got ’em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
    Attributed to Charles Colson in the Woodward-Bernstein tome All the Presidents Men.

  16. Kingdaddy says:

    What you wear for important occasions is a sign of respect. I would not wear jeans, novelty socks, and my Mandalorian (“This Is The Way”) T-shirt to a funeral. That’s because I care about the contribution I make to the collective outcome of a solemn event. “Look at me!” would not be my priority.

  17. Kathy says:


    She could wear a Mr. Meeseeks costume.

    Ironically, of course. A Meeseeks’ first words are usually “I’m Mr. Meeseeks! Look at ME!!” But then they do something useful and go away.

  18. CSK says:

    Dressing sloppily or ultra-casually is also a way of saying: “I’m so important that I can wear whatever I like, and you peasants just have to tolerate it.”

    I’m really surprised Mark Zuckerberg took off hs t-shirt and put on a suit to testify before the senate.

  19. Beth says:

    If this is indeed her game, she’s winning.

    What’s the prize?

    I mean, I get it, I too am a chaotic attention-seeking bisexual. I understand that part of her. But even my chaos has some sort of purpose.


    That outfit is awful.

    I could not agree more.

  20. keef says:

    Heh. I guess if you are a Republican with the same predilections you are (triumphant blare of trumpets) a Maverick! All hail, the Maverick!!

    A Democrat upsetting the progressives march to a total authoritarian welfare state. A turncoat, self centered and uncouth bitxxch.


  21. keef says:

    But I’m looking at the good news. The proof is in. The supply chain mess is because of the robust economy. Joey and Ron Klain told me so:

    Oh, and the Atlanta Fed………..well, you go find it yourself. It wont be on MSNBC or HuffPo.

  22. Kathy says:

    I’m beginning to resent these attacks on Kif Kroker’s good name.

  23. CSK says:

    She likes to be filmed in Sinemascope.

  24. Mister Bluster says:

    Speaking of good names, Bill Goodykoontz is a righteous handle.
    My disabled friend Joe would have approved as his full name is Joseph Huber Koontz.

  25. Scott F. says:

    Troll shows up to troll a post about trolling…. Doesn’t see the irony…. Nice.

  26. de stijl says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I was thinking the same thing.

    Goodykoontz is a hell of a name.

  27. de stijl says:

    I am going against the room here. I have zero problems with her outfit. Why not?

    Would I have worn it? No. But it really isn’t my business.

    I don’t any own denim anymore. Last closet purge I 86’d the lot (all two pairs). I had not worn them in decades. The last time I put a pair of jeans on sometime in early aughts I did the mirror check before I went out “Man, I look like an asshole!” and changed.

    Can I tell you why I don’t wear jeans? No. Because I have no idea why. It just is.

    I have no problem with other people wearing jeans. If you like it, go for it. It isn’t my business anyway. Wear whatever the hell you want. For whatever reason that makes sense to you.

  28. JohnSF says:

    See recently booted Prime Ministerial Advisor Dominic Cummings in the UK.
    His slob act was always a deliberate assertion of power.

  29. CSK says:

    Much as I assume Boris Johnson’s idiotic hairdo is.

  30. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    The point about her outfit is that she’s wearing it deliberately to provoke a response: annoyance. She’s acting like a teenager, not a middle-aged person, which she is.

    I don’t care what people wear, either.

  31. de stijl says:


    You are making a pretty big assumption about her reasoning as to why. A lot of other did that too.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: Just a week or two ago, Luddite and I were noting that we knew girls in high school that would have really rocked (as in “who rocked the frock” feature in fashion magazines) the outfits that Sinema wears.

    Then we noted that none of those girls would ever have been caught dead dressing like she does. Style always knows.

  33. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    My assumption is based on her attitudes and mannerisms as well as her attire. The cutesy-poo curtsy? The even cutesy-poo-er pic of her sipping sangria through a straw? The “fuck off” ring?

    She’s an adolescent taunting the grown-ups with what a free spirit she is.

  34. de stijl says:


    We’re not going to agree on this.

    It’s fair to call out the curtsy, but her clothes and personal style just does not matter to me at all. I don’t care what she wears. I care about how she votes.

  35. JohnSF says:

    No, that is part of his “bumbling, breezy Boris, bit of a clown, but a jolly fellow…” act.
    And like all the best acts, founded upon a certain truth, and so well acted for so long it has become a part of the actor.

    Seen best just before you notice the the dagger embedded between your shoulder-blades…
    As a trail of his politically deceased enemies have cause to regret (Cameron, Osborne, May, Gove, Hunt, Stewart, Grieve, Gauke, Corbyn) Johnson is in fact one of the most ruthlessly effective politicians of post-war Britain. The clown assassin.

    And like all the best acts, founded upon a certain truth, and so well acted for so long it has become a part of the actor.

  36. dazedandconfused says:

    A rebel without a cause. $10 says that when she was a teen her favorite pop star was Madonna.

  37. Matt says:

    @Beth: Lots of money and a sweet job after she leaves office. One of the classes she teaches at Arizona State University is “Developing Grants and Fundraising”. She’s been spending all her time with donors who happen to be people who would lose money if taxes went up on the rich and/or if healthcare became cheaper. Last I knew she hasn’t even had a town hall since she was elected. I know people who are represented by her and they tell me she’s just vanished after being elected. She has burned bridges with basically everyone in Arizona except those that give her money. Based on what former friends have said it’s clear she’s just trying to cash out as much as possible.