5 Politicians Who Tanked Their Chances in the Fewest Words Possible

Those of you who remember campaigns past might know just why the word ‘tanked’ is being used
5 Politicians Who Tanked Their Chances in the Fewest Words Possible

Given Trump’s and (Trumpalikes’) recent strategy for running for office, the reputation of politicians as people who are careful with every word has been pretty much decimated. At one point, they were famous for their tiptoeing, nothing answers, but now you can pretty much call someone a fat pig and get away with it. Sure, the center-middle-left of Twitter will clutch their pearls and call it shameful, but there is an incredible amount of pudding and the proof within it on display at this point.

Back in the day, though, there was a good reason for all the hemming and hawing from the podium: a single slip-up could have dire consequences for the totality of your political goals. A lifetime of public service could go slithering down the drain like one big, honorable turd if you said one thing on mic that made you sound like an idiot. It didn’t matter if it was a mistake probably half of Americans would make, you were supposed to be the smart guy around here!

Here are five politicians who tanked their chances in the fewest words possible…

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Dan Quayle Misspells Potato

Public Domain

Potatoe, Potatoeoe, whats the difference?

George W. Bush was able to ride out a reputation for generally poor grammar and a less-than ideal grasp of the English language all the way to the White House. That must have stung especially for one of the men running against him early in the 2000 election, Dan Quayle. Quayle had been Vice President under Dubya’s father, George H.W. Bush, until Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, and had similarly been tagged as a dull Crayon, but without the last name recognition to appease voters.

The peak moment that he’d never be able to escape came at an appearance at a New Jersey middle school. He was put in charge of a mock spelling bee, a run-of-the-mill hand-shaking and baby-kissing type photo-op that was about to go horribly wrong. When one of the children correctly spelled “potato,” which, if any of you are curious, is spelled “potato,” Quayle stepped in to suggest that it should have been “potatoe.” Not how you shake a rep for being smooth-brained. He blamed an inaccurate note card given to him by the school, but c’mon, man. If you’re not confident in your own ability to spell “potato,” you don’t get nukes.

Gerald Ford’s Soviet Union Slipup

Public Domain

Probably didnt help that he looks like his mission is to crush the X-Men.

When it comes to possible presidents, people generally prefer them to be current on world news. When that world news includes potential wartime adversaries, even more so. If someone asks in a debate what your stance on North Korea is, the worst possible answer is something along the lines of “why, what are they doing over there?” So when presidential candidate Gerald Ford displayed either a brain fart or a genuine confusion about what countries the Soviet Union was in control of, it made it pretty hard to recover.

Even worse, it was during a televised debate, an instance in which it’s pretty hard to argue that you weren’t ready for the question. What’d you do, leave the pack of note cards labeled “Soviet Stuff” on the Metro? Ford was debating future president Jimmy Carter when he said, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe,” which prompted even the moderator to go, “I’m sorry, what?” It’s the political equivalent of an own goal, and a sign to Carter that he was home free.

George Allen Calls Someone A ‘Macaca’

Public Domain

Its like someone put “Republican Governor” into an A.I. art bot.

This one might sound particularly weird, given that it’s a bit of racial insensitivity that tanked a senator’s career. Nowadays, that’s basically their platform. Is it weird to say that a Republican candidate being overtly racist was “ahead of his time”? Kind of, but here we are. Shoulda held out for 2016, big fella! The politician in question was George Allen, a Virginia governor who has fallen so far from grace that Google now suggests on googling him, “Did you mean third-string Bengals cornerback Allan George?”

The moment of his downfall came when he chose to acknowledge a volunteer for his opponent’s campaign, who just so unluckily happened to be taping him at the time. He started with “This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt,” which, while certainly not friendly, is a perfectly acceptable way to pick someone out of a crowd. He then added a bit of politically devastating clarification on the Indian-American man he was indicating, calling him “Macaca, or whatever his name is.” He doubled down with, “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America.” 

Generally don’t want to follow up a made-up racist name with something neo-Nazis say after they do a hate crime in movies. He was not re-elected.

The Howard Dean Scream

Edward Kimmel

Howard Dean (not screaming)

Maybe one of the most-cited gaffes in recent history to show just how precipitous a candidate’s public speaking engagements could be is Howard Dean’s famous scream. The earlier entries on this list needed at least a genuine idea that was stupid or offensive to pour sugar in their political gas tank. It turned out all Dean needed was unbridled enthusiasm and a single extremely unlucky voice crack.

While at a 2004 rally, Dean attempted to punctuate the end of his speech with what I assume was meant to be a powerful war cry. Unfortunately for him, his vocal cords declined to acquiesce, and what came out, additionally isolated by the microphone, was the uneven squeal of a pre-teen karate student practicing a straight punch. From that moment on, I assume the DNC required vocal exercises, a tin of Fisherman’s Friend and a volume cap for all potential candidates.

Michael Dukakis Rides in a Tank

Public Domain

Helmets will never do that head any favors.

Our last entry didn’t need words at all to enter the realm of ridicule. It was, as Politico calls it in an in-depth history of the moment, “the worst campaign photo-op ever.” This was the fateful decision for presidential hopeful Michael Dukakis to take a photo of him riding in a military tank. Dukakis was by no means a large man at 5-foot-8. It doesn’t take much of a talent for visual comedy to imagine that throwing him into a massive tank, with the cherry-on-top being a huge military helmet strapped onto his diminutive dome, would not look very commanding. 

It was not, and even the reporters apparently were unable to stop from laughing during the photo-op, a reaction that was mirrored by most of the country. To this day it’s a touchstone reference for an unwise campaign event, and one that furthered the wisdom once uttered by Barack Obama, that “you don’t put stuff on your head if you’re president. That’s politics 101.” 

I doubt he’d admit it, but given that the item in question was a helmet, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was remembering Dukakis’ exact mistake at that moment.

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