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Quora Answer: Was Clinton campaign’s “Basket of Deplorables” speech the worst political gaffe in the presidential election history? If not, what was the worst?

Was Clinton campaign’s “Basket of Deplorables” speech the worst political gaffe in the presidential election history? If not, what was the worst?

Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment offended people who were already chanting “lock her up”. There really was no political consequence for her.

Here are my top 5 Presidential campaign gaffes that were actually very consequential.

1968: Romney’s Brainwashing

One of Nixon’s strongest rivals for the nomination was Michigan Gov. George Romney (Mitt’s father). In attempting to shift his Vietnam position, claimed that the Johnson administration had “brainwashed” him. His support dropped 16 points as a result.

1976: Ford’s Poland Gaffe

Gerald Ford, the accidental President, at one point trailed Jimmy Carter by as much as 33 points in July ‘76, but closed the gap to 47–45 just prior to the second Presidential debate with Carter.

In that debate, Ford ridiculously claimed Poland was not under Soviet domination. The questioner was stunned and more or less gave Ford the opportunity to walk away from the question, but he doubled down thus ending his campaign’s steady momentum. In an extremely close election (Carter won by 1.6M votes), that could have made all the difference.

1984: Hart Makes Fun of New Jersey Before Primary

Gary Hart had almost knocked out front-runner Walter Mondale with early wins in New Hampshire followed by a near sweep of the first Super Tuesday. Mondale fought back with key victories in Michigan and Illinois in April. In May, Hart scored key victories in Ohio, Indiana and Oregon. Going into the final round of primaries in June, Gary Hart needed wins in both California and New Jersey to have a shot to win.

Then came this gaffe a week before the primary, as reported in the New York Times:

Campaigning in Bel-Air, Calif., Friday evening, Senator Hart made an appearance before supporters with his wife, Lee. Meant No Insult

”The deal is we campaign separately; that’s the bad news,” he said. ”The good news for her is she campaigns in California and I campaign in New Jersey.”

”I got to hold a koala bear,” Mrs. Hart said.

”I won’t tell you what I got to hold – samples from a toxic waste dump,” the Senator responded.

The comment was widely criticized in New Jersey and caused Hart’s small lead to shift to a 15-point drubbing by Mondale. Game over.

1988: Dukakis Fumbles Death Penalty Question

In the second debate with Vice President Bush, Michael Dukakis gave a technocratic answer to this emotionally charged question on would he want the death penalty if his own wife were raped and murdered.

Although the question was awkwardly phrased, and jarring in its tastelessness, Dukakis shouldn’t have been surprised by the subject. Crime was a big issue in 1988 and Dukakis’ opposition to capital punishment was at odds with public opinion. His staff had briefed him on this, but apparently too much. His answer could have included an emotional recitation at his own family’s suffering at the hands of criminals: his father’s mugging, the death of his brother from a hit-and-run driver—and outrage at the thought of someone hurting Kitty Dukakis. Instead, he provided a meandering dispassionate explanation of his theories on criminal justice.

It was the final nail in the coffin for Dukakis.

2012: Romney’s 47 Percent Gaffe

In 2012, Mitt Romney was in a tight race against President Obama. Then a video leaked out showing that he said at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans support Obama because they are dependent on the government and expect the government to take care of them.

Obama used the comment in attack ads and in their next Presidential debate and it put Romney on the defensive.

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cilliza explained:

The conventional wisdom is that “47 percent” hurt so much because it played directly into the stereotype of Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy that President Obama and his campaign were playing up. And, that’s true.

But, there’s more there when it comes to why the comments were so incredibly damaging. The truly terrible thing for Romney was that the remarks not only came directly out of Romney’s mouth but were also documented on video.


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