stalking horse

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stalking horse (plural stalking horses)

  1. (dated, hunting) A horse used as cover by a hunter stalking game.
  2. (idiomatic, politics) A candidate put forward to serve a hidden, ulterior purpose in a political campaign, such as testing the field for another potential candidate by gauging voter sentiment or covertly helping another candidate by attracting voters away from a third candidate.
    • 1842, Honoré de Balzac, chapter 8, in Ellen Marriage, transl., Albert Savarus:
      The Ministry had their candidate, a stalking-horse, useful only to receive the purely Ministerial votes. The votes, thus divided, gave no result.
    • 2008 May 23, James Graff, “Lost: Labour's Love for Brown”, in Time[1], archived from the original on 2016-03-07:
      Any open challenge would likely come first as trial balloons from backbench "stalking horse" candidates, who could never win.
    • 2020 October 20, Ross Douthat, “Trump Is Giving Up”, in New York Times[2]:
      But the other narrative goes after Biden as though the Democrats had actually nominated Bernie Sanders, insisting that his advancing age makes him a decrepit vessel for the radical left, a stalking horse not just for Kamala Harris but also for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and antifa.
  3. (idiomatic, by extension) A person, thing, or expedient used in a deceptive manner, to achieve some hidden purpose.
    Synonyms: pretext, ruse
    • 1694, William Congreve, The Double-Dealer, act 2, scene 4:
      Do you think my daughter [] fit for nothing but to be a stalking horse, to stand before you, while you take aim at my wife?
    • 1833, James Fenimore Cooper, chapter 29, in The Headsman[3]:
      "Let the great of the earth give but half the care to prevent, that they show to punish, offences against themselves, and what is now called justice will no longer be a stalking-horse to enable a few to live at the cost of the rest.
    • 1992 May 25, “One for The Loggers”, in Time[4], archived from the original on 2014-08-04:
      Environmentalists have used the owl as a stalking horse to save the last 10% of old-growth forest in the Northwest.
    • 2008 August 27, Kirk Johnson, Eric Lichtblau, “Officials See No ‘Credible Threat’ to Obama in Racist Rants”, in New York Times[5]:
      The post, culling online chatter from supremacist sites, said hate groups were increasingly worried that law enforcement authorities would use Mr. Obama’s candidacy as a stalking horse to justify a government clampdown.


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