5 epic presidential campaign gaffes
A politician walks into a salon and gets a $400 haircut. And that’s it. There’s no punch line because this isn’t a joke; it actually happened during John Edwards’ presidential campaign in 2007. The costs of his haircuts became public, and a political embarrassment was born.
Political campaign mistakes can range from silly missteps and errors in judgment to incidents powerful enough to damage a politician’s career. We chatted with Joe Rice, University of Phoenix instructor for political science and history courses and a former legislator for the Colorado House of Representatives, about some memorable presidential gaffes. Here, five regretful moves in recent history:
John Kerry’s Philly cheesesteak order
Embarrassing moment: In 2003, on a campaign stop in Philadelphia, presidential hopeful John Kerry turned a photo op into a photo oops. At a popular cheesesteak stand, Kerry ordered a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese. For the majority of Philadelphians, anything other than Cheez Whiz on a cheesesteak is blasphemy — and for the rest, only American or provolone will do.
Result: Although this was only a minor faux pas, Rice says that, while campaigning, you have to do your homework.
Dan Quayle’s spelling of potato
Embarrassing moment: During the 1992 presidential campaign, Vice President Quayle was leading a spelling bee for sixth-grade students when he incorrectly corrected a student to spell potato with an “e” at the end.
Result: Rice says, “At the time, a lot of people in America thought the vice president was unintelligent, and this only solidified those beliefs.”
Sarah Palin’s Katie Couric interview
Embarrassing moment: After John McCain received the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election, he picked a little-known Alaska governor as his running mate. In an interview with Katie Couric, Palin stumbled to answer key questions on a variety of issues, including foreign policy and the financial crisis.
Result: “She was unprepared,” Rice says. “She lacked legitimate experience and lacked being under intense media focus.” Rice adds that the aired interview created credibility doubts and made people question McCain’s judgment.
Michael Dukakis’ tank ride
Embarrassing moment: In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had a reputation for being soft on defense issues. In an attempt to show otherwise, Dukakis visited a defense manufacturer and went for a ride in a tank.
Result: The publicity stunt backfired, and the Republican Party used the footage against him, Rice explains, adding that Dukakis should’ve done something more authentic.
“Don’t do photo ops for the sake of photo ops,” Rice says. “Everyone would look silly wearing that helmet unless they were meant to be there.”
Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech
Embarrassing moment: Also known as the “Dean Scream,” this mistake happened during the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. Dean took a surprising third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and ended his enthusiastic speech with a high-pitched, excited “yeah!”
Result: Rice explains that this confirmed concerns that Dean was a loose cannon. “There was already a pre-existing notion that Dean was irrational and had a temper,” Rice says. “I didn’t see a big deal with this, but unfortunately, a lot of people did.”
The video was shown more than 600 times in a few days on cable news networks alone, and the moment had so much impact that it completely derailed Dean’s hopes for a presidency.