— So many goofs. So little time.
Mitt Romney’s 2012 gaffe-a-thon, revealed on covert tape recordings made at a campaign fundraiser, is certain to join the hit parade of presidential gaffes.
Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry won himself a place in history with his famous “oops” moment.
But let’s look back through the pages of history for other defining boo-boos. Here are 10 of the biggest campaign gaffes of modern American presidential elections:
1. John Kerry being for it before he was against it. (2004)
Under attack for changing his mind on important issues for political reasons, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry explained his switch on a funding bill.“I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it,” he declared. That one sentence came to define the Massachusetts senator in the minds of many swing voters. Republican National Convention attendees taunted Kerry by waving flip-flops on the Madison Square Garden convention floor. Republicans repeatedly aired the sound bite as an attack ad. Kerry came close but fell just short of unseating President George W. Bush.
2. George McGovern saying he was“one thousand percent” behind his running mate. (1972)
When the media revealed that Democratic vice presidential nominee Tom Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy for depression, there was a call from many top Democrats for presidential nominee George McGovern to replace him on the ticket. McGovern, the antiwar senator from South Dakota, held firm.“I am one thousand percent for Tom Eagleton and I have no intention of dropping him from the ticket,” McGovern said. Soon, McGovern dropped Eagleton from the ticket. His credibility also dropped. He lost in a landslide to Richard M. Nixon.
3. Gerald Ford liberating Poland. (1976)
In the first presidential debate of 1976, President Gerald Ford mistakenly said that Poland was free of Soviet domination. It wasn’t. The gaffe proved costly to Ford among blue-collar voters whose families came from Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.
4. Michael Dukakis in the tank. (1988)
This is a gaffe without a word. Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis wanted to look presidential. Tough on defense. He took a ride in a tank. He looked like a little boy in a big helmet. Big mistake. Within 24 hours, the Duke’s tank ride was a Republican campaign commercial.
5. Howard Dean’s scream. (2004)
The one-time Democratic frontrunner’s campaign never recovered from his “yee-haw” moment the night of his defeat in the 2004 Iowa caucuses. The former Vermont governor got carried away while reciting a list of states he had targeted for victory. “The Scream” became The Story of the night. And the Dean campaign.
6. Barack Obama laments voters who “cling” to guns or religion. (2008)
Losing candidates’ gaffes are usually the ones that are best remembered. But then-Sen. Barack Obama made a doozy at a closed-door California fundraiser in 2008. Trying to explain the frustrations of small-town, blue-collar voters to wealthy San Francisco-area Democrats, he said:“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” He’s been living down the gaffe ever since. Most recently, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan talked about how he’s a proud Catholic deer hunter.
7. Barry Goldwater embracing “extremism.” (1964)
It has become a classic of conservative oratory, but in 1964, Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco became a classic example of how to alienate swing voters. The Arizona Republican’s call to arms ended in this crescendo: “Those who do not care for our cause, we don’t expect to enter our ranks in any case. And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels. I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” The GOP nominee was headed for a massive defeat.
8. Gary Hart’s challenge to the media to “follow me.” (1988)
When rumors first began circulating in 1987 that Democratic presidential frontrunner Gary Hart was having affairs, he taunted the press.“Follow me around,” he challenged the media. “It will be boring.” Well, they did. And it wasn’t boring. The Miami Herald discovered a woman named Donna Rice. The famous National Enquirer photos on the good ship “Monkey Business” followed. And Hart — whose campaign buttons stated “My Heart Belongs to Gary” — ended up jilted by voters.
9. George Romney’s “brainwash” comment. (1968)
Another Romney, another gaffe. Michigan Gov. George Romney, an early favorite for the 1968 Republican nomination, was the only anti-war candidate in a field that eventually included Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and Ronald Reagan. In a TV interview, he explained that his early support for the Vietnam War was a result of brainwashing. “When I came back from Vietnam I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone can get,” he said. “Not only by the generals, but also by the diplomatic corps over there. They do a very thorough job.” Romney’s campaign never recovered.
10. Al Gore inventing the Internet. (2000)
Vice President Al Gore was locked in a tough primary race against former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley when he spoke to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. Ticking off his qualifications for president, he noted, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore indeed had been an early proponent of the Internet. But his misstatement became part of a damaging image of the Tennessee Democrat as a serial exaggerator.