Opinion

The top 10 campaign-ending political gaffes in modern US history

Photo of Rick Robinson
Rick Robinson
Author, Writ of Mandamus
  • See All Articles
  • Subscribe to RSS
  • Bio

      Rick Robinson

      Rick Robinson has spent thirty years in politics and law, including a stint on Capitol Hill as Legislative Director/Chief Counsel to then-Congressman Jim Bunning (R-KY). He has been active in all levels of politics, from advising candidates on the national level to walking door-to-door in city council races. He ran for the United States Congress in 1998.

      Rick’s first book, The Maximum Contribution, was named a “Finalist” in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Books Awards in the genre of political fiction. It also won an Honorable Mention at the 2008 Hollywood Book Festival. Sniper Bid, was released on Election Day 2009 and opened on Amazon’s Top Seller list at #46 of political fiction. Sniper Bid earned 5 national awards: Finalist USA Book News Best Books of 2009; Finalist Best Indie Novel Next Generation Indie Books Awards; Runner-up at the 2009 Nashville Book Festival; Honorable Mentions at the 2008 New England Book Festival and the 2009 Hollywood Book Festival. Throughout 2009 both books appeared on Amazon’s Top Seller List on the same day.

      Rick’s third offering, Manifest Destiny, was released in the spring of 2010. It was named Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival, a Finalist for Best Fiction in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Best Fiction at the New York Book Festival, a Finalist as Best Thriller in the Indie Excellence Awards, and won Honorable mention in the Beach Book Festival, the Hollywood Book Festival and the San Francisco Book Festival.

      A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University and Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Rick currently practices law in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky with the law firm of Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP. Rick, and his wife Linda, live in Ft. Mitchell with their three children, Josh, Zach and MacKenzie.

It happens each election cycle: some politician makes a comment so stupid that the fallout essentially ends his campaign, whether he drops out or not. These disastrous quotes generally go way beyond Dan Quayle’s spelling abilities, Al Gore inventing the Internet or Joe Biden, well, being Joe Biden. The quotes that cut the electorate to the core are those that force a “WTF” to pop into voters’ minds every time they see the numbskull on television or read about him in the newspaper.

Such is the case with Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. The damage from his inane comments on “legitimate rape” cannot be washed aside by the world’s greatest spin masters. Argue as he may that he misspoke, politically he’s done — banished to the electoral graveyard with other idiots who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. If Akin stays in the race, he’s toast.

But Akin is not the only person to open his political pie-hole and insert his foot. His gaffe, however, does rank as one of the biggest career-ending utterances in modern American political history. Before last Sunday, what were the top 10?

10.) Edwin Muskie’s snowflake tears: An emotional outburst on a cold and snowy morning ended the presidential bid of Edwin Muskie. The Maine senator was the Democratic front-runner when a New Hampshire newspaper ran two scurrilous editorials, one accusing Muskie’s wife of hard drinking and off-color humor. Muskie held an impromptu press conference on the steps in front of the newspaper’s offices, offering an emotional rebuttal to the attacks. The press said he cried. Muskie’s aides said it was melted snowflakes. Whatever it was, Muskie was done and Sen. George McGovern won the right to face President Richard Nixon in 1972.

9.) McGovern: “I am 1,000% for Tom Eagleton”: Speaking of George McGovern and the 1972 presidential campaign, when a story broke that his running mate, Sen. Tom Eagleton, had been hospitalized for depression and treated with electro-shock therapy, McGovern said he stood “1,000% for Tom Eagleton.” Eagleton was dumped from the ticket after 18 days and replaced by Sargent Shriver. It was all downhill from there.

8.) McCain/Palin: It’s hard to imagine that a gaffe-free campaign could have stopped the Obama juggernaut, but the 2008 GOP ticket still had plenty to offer. McCain made the mistake of saying in the middle of the financial collapse that “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” And Palin looked like a moose-in-the-headlights in her initial television interviews. Her responses regarding the “Bush Doctrine” and reading anything other than the Wasilla Gazette gave way to “Saturday Night Live” skits that, fairly or unfairly, forged her image in the eyes of many voters.

7.) Bob Dole’s fall: Many believe that Senator Bob Dole’s chance to beat President Bill Clinton in 1996 ended when he fell off a stage in Chico, California. Then 73, Dole reached down to shake the hand of a supporter, when an unanchored, decorative railing on the stage gave way. Though uninjured by the fall, the televised image of his painful grimace underscored the age difference between him and Clinton.

6.) Howard Dean’s “I Have a Scream” speech: No one expected former Vermont Governor Howard Dean to be the early front-runner for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination — least of all Iowans. After a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, a red-faced Dean in rolled-up shirt sleeves let loose a scream that became the joke of late-night comedians for weeks to come. His substantial lead in the New Hampshire primary dwindled, as did his presidential aspirations.