Sometimes politicians can get past a bad outing: Bill Clinton spoke way too long at a DNC convention, then quickly redeemed his image by playing the sax on late-night TV. But misspelling "potato" can damage your political prospects forever.
A bit of Sideshow word association. Take a look at the following list of individuals. Aside from being well-known on the political scene, what do they have in common?
-Michael Brown (FEMA director under George W. Bush, 2001-2005)
Chances are, they all stick in your mind because of some gaffe or bizarre situation that may have seemed insignificant in the moment but became inextricable from their image.
For Michael Dukakis, it was the 1988 photo-op that “tanked.” It was the final stretch of the 1988 presidential election and the Democratic candidate made a stop at the General Dynamics Land Systems plant in Michigan. The image of the candidate looking small and ridiculous in an oversized helmut and tank became ubiquitous in television attack ads from Dukakis’ Republican opponent, George H.W. Bush.
The fact that Dukakis did in fact have military experience had no bearing on the effect of the ads. The Bush campaign portrayed him as weak and not serious on defense, and the “Dukakis in the tank” image seemed to say it all.
Howard Dean became known for a 2004 speech he gave in Des Moines, Iowa, or as it’s now known: the “I have a scream” speech. It was January of that year, and Dean had suffered a third place finish in the Iowa Democratic caucuses behind John Kerry and John Edwards. In attempting to rally supporters in states that had not yet cast their ballots, Dean let his decibel-level get the better of him.
For Rick Perry, one word says it all: “oops.”
When voters look at Florida Senator Marco Rubio four or forty years from now, will they say, “Oh that’s the guy who got thirsty during his response to the State of the Union address.” He’s trying to neutralize the negative power of the image and turn it to his own advantage. His Super Pac, Reclaim America, is already trying to score a few bucks off the gulp.
Take a look at the Hardball Sideshow for more of those momentary-but-politically-crippling moments.