The Ten Worst Gaffes In Modern American Politics: Debate Edition

Debate night is a huge night for politicians, affording them the rare chance to talk directly challenge the statements made by their opponents. It is also an opportunity for the candidates to make some damaging gaffes. Here are ten of the worst.

1. “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

When Gerald Ford was asked a question about the Soviet Domination of Eastern Europe, no one, not even the moderator, expected Ford to claim that the Soviets did not have a sphere of influence over nations like Poland, Yugoslovia or Romania. Yet, Ford claimed that, and even repeated his claim when questioned again. His answer stopped his surging poll numbers and may have very well cost Ford an extremely close 1976 election.

2. “I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life”

When Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis if his wife were raped and murdered, would he seek the death penalty, Dukakis said no, as expected. However, given the personal nature of the question, Dukakis’ straight answer and immediate shift to a prepared response was viewed as cold and widened the already large disconnect between Dukakis and the American people.

3. “Oops”

Rick Perry made an unforced error when he was talking about his flat tax plan and his view of a reduced government. Perry stated that he would cut three agencies of the federal government, but then was only able to list two. While other members on the stage tried to help him, he continued to struggle, before letting out a dejected ‘oops’. Perry had led in many Republican primary polls before his repeated issues in the GOP debates ended his chances as a viable candidate.

4. “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Admiral Stockdale’s opening statement of “Who am I? Why am I here?” might have actually worked had been been able to remind the American people of his distinguished military service or provided some insight into his political views. Instead, he managed to turn off his hearing aid during one point in the debate and became a largely comic figure afterwords.

5. “Democrat wars”

Bob Dole’s reputation as a veteran is well known, so it was a bit surprising when he referred to all American wars during the 20th Century, including World War I and II as “Democrat Wars” and, while he was attempting to deflect fire about Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, he instead drew more attention back to his campaign, and this gaffe, combined with Ford’s gaffe listed above, may have prevented the defeat of Jimmy Carter.

6. Al Gore’s body language

Al Gore had been accused of being too confrontational and stilted during the first two Presidential Debates with George W. Bush. But that didn’t stop him from standing up and closing in on Bush after Bush gave an answer that Vice President Gore felt was evasive. In a close election, the debates gave Gore an image of being stilted, confrontational and cold that likely cost him votes.

7. “Wanna bet?”

Mitt Romney is widely portrayed as an out of touch rich guy, and he didn’t help matters any when, during the GOP debates, he bet Rick Perry $10,000 to settle a trivial matter. The specific number choice seemed to suggest that it was a number that Romney believed he could afford to lose, and reinforced some of the negative stereotypes Romney faces in 2012.

8. What time is it?

While being asked a question in a townhall style debate, George H. W. Bush checked his watch while being asked a question, then failed the grasp the question being asked to him, even after it was repeated twice. The move to the watch, combined with Bush’s history of disliking debates in general, reinforced some already growing negative feelings for Bush.

9. “That One”

John McCain’s gaffes from the 2008 campaign are somewhat downplayed, as his running mate took a lot of the attention away from the mistakes he had made, but one that seemed to stick was a statement he made during a debate where he referred to Barack Obama as “That One”.

10. “It was an unidentified flying object”

Yeah, he just said he saw a UFO.

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