Gaffes That Supposedly Kill

As Mitt Romney continues to flop in the verbal net of his own devising, the New York Times‘ John Harwood produces a useful and entertaining list of the “top ten verbal misfires” by presidential candidates over the last half-century or so.

Most are famous and familiar, and range from Mitt’s father’s “brainwashing” comment back in 1968 to John McCain’s sunny comments about the “fundamentals” of the U.S. economy in 2008.

You can peruse the list yourself; all I’d add is that there is continuing controversy about whether any of these items had the kind of impact Harwood suggests. George Romney’s may be the clearest case, since his campaign went into an immediate death spiral from which it quickly expired. In a recent piece for the Washington Monthly, John Sides disputes another thought to be a killer, Gerald Ford’s Poland gaffe in 1976.

What most of them have in common, however, is that they illustrated a candidate characteristic or point of view already widely perceived, and widely perceived as damaging. And that could be how the Boca Moment is remembered down the road.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.