Top 10 most painfully awkward political moments from presidential campaign trail

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
Font Size:

One week ago Texas Gov. Rick Perry made even his most rabid detractors feel sympathy for him.

On live national television, before an audience of millions, he struggled to remember the third government department he would seek to abolish as president. He scoured his mind, searched his lectern for who knows what, even appealed to his fellow candidates for assistance. But no aid was forthcoming. Unable to pass off the mental lapse as some minor slip-up through the sheer force of his character, he stood humiliated before his fellow peers and the American people. As one friend astutely theorized, Perry, who had already faced much fire for his poor debating performances, “just let the fear in.”

It was an excruciating ordeal as much for Perry as for the viewing audience. “Make it stop,” Perry fans and foes almost assuredly screamed in unison at their television screens. Couldn’t the moderators be punished for violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?

But Perry’s fiasco wasn’t the first painfully awkward moment an American presidential or vice-presidential candidate has subjected the American people to — and it almost certainly won’t be the last (see, for instance, Herman Cain attempting to explain his Libya policy).

What follows are the 10 all-time most painfully awkward political moments by presidential or vice-presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

10. Dan Quayle’s Potatoe

While campaigning for re-election in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle visited the Luis Munoz Rivera School in Trenton, New Jersey. With the camera’s rolling, he made an embarrassing spelling faux pas that would taint the rest of his career.


Political comedians, of course, ate the gaffe up. Take a look at David Letterman’s interview with the child who initially spelled potato correctly.



9. Dennis Kucinich, alien-seer

Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich admitted to having seen a UFO during a 2008 Democratic presidential primary debate.



8. Bob Dole’s fallen and he can’t get up

Then-Kansas Sen. Bob Dole got a little too close to the edge of a stage while campaigning for president in 1996.


7. Tongue-tied Admiral

Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot’s running mate Admiral James Stockdale became tongue tied during a 1992 vice presidential debate.


6. Pancake Toss 

Republican presidential contender Gary Bauer showed why it can be dangerous to toss pancakes on the campaign trail in 2000.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWUaN2HagRo

5. Hillary’s Likeable Enough

Obama gives a cringe-inducing underhanded compliment to Hillary Clinton during a 2008 Democratic primary debate.


4. Sarah Palin duped by fake Sarkozy

During the 2008 presidential campaign, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and a man posing as French President Nicolas Sarkozy made plans to go helicopter hunting.



3. Barack Obama, Geography Whiz

During his 2008 presidential run, Barack Obama bragged to an audience about how many states he had visited during his campaign — 57.


2. Soviet domination? What Soviet domination?

During a 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford insisted that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Thankfully, when given the opportunity by the stunned moderator to backtrack, he did. Oh, no wait. He actually doubled down.


1. Stand-up, Guy in the Wheelchair

It doesn’t get any more Joe Biden than this. During a campaign stop in Missouri in 2008, the loquacious, fun-loving son of Scranton asked a local elective official to stand up and be recognized. It would have been a nice gesture if the man wasn’t confined to a wheelchair.


Did we miss any big ones? Email us with your favorites.

Follow Jamie on Twitter