The Top 10 Political Gaffes This Election

Political gaffes, blunders, and missteps hurt a number of campaigns this election.


The media used the term "etch a sketch" to describe Romney's sometimes changing political positions for months.

By + More

In the age of the Internet, a misspoken sentence can sink a political career at the speed of a tweet—or at least set back a campaign so far it's tough to recover. And since the bite-sized portion of what goes for news on the Web doesn't leave room for "context" the blunders often take on a life of their own and remain in countless spin-offs as "facts."

Below is a round up of the top 10 political gaffes that hurt congressmen, presidential candidates, and the White House in 2012:

1. "Legitimate rape" and what "God intended"

First, Republican Missouri Rep. Todd Akin said in an interview while running for Missouri Senate that in "a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Then, Republican Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said that if a woman becomes pregnant after being raped, it was "something that God intended to happen."

Though Akin's remark was more damaging, both gaffes were met with derision by voters—and both men lost the races they had previously been favored to win.

2. The "47 percent"

At a fundraiser in May, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was caught on camera saying that "47 percent" of Americans were dependent on the government. "These are people who pay no income tax," he said. The surreptitious video went viral after it was posted to the liberal site Mother Jones, and is believed to have had a serious negative impact on Romney's election.

3. "More flexibility"

A hot mic caught President Barack Obama in March telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" to handle a dispute over missile defense after the American presidential election was over. Romney later mocked the exchange.

4. Campaign attacks "nauseating"

Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker was accused of going off message in May after he criticized the Obama campaign's attacks on Romney on television as "nauseating." Republicans responded by creating an "I Stand With Cory Booker" campaign.

5. "You didn't build that"

At a July appearance in Roanoke, Va., President Obama described how businesses rely on public infrastructure by saying: "You didn't build that"—a sound bite that provided fodder for the opposition for months. A number of business owners said the comment offended them, including one Virginia bakery that refused to serve Vice President Joe Biden while he was on the campaign trail.

6. "Binders full of women"

When women's issues came up in the second presidential debate, Romney boasted of gender equity in building his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts, saying he had "binders full of women." The awkwardness of the phrasing spurred dozens of memes online.

7. "Put y'all back in chains"

Biden, who is known to be gaffe-prone, raised more than a few eyebrows in August when he told an audience including black voters in Danville, Va., that Mitt Romney would "put y'all back in chains." The Romney campaign seized upon the remark, calling it a "new low."

8. "I like being able to fire people."

In a speech in January in New Hampshire, Romney tried to explain the benefits of being able to get rid of medical insurance that wasn't working. "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," he said. Democrats used the comment to bolster their criticism that Romney's tenure at Bain Capital was akin to "vulture capitalism."

9. A "base on the moon."

On the campaign trail in Florida in February, then Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich promised that "by the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon." Gingrich's moon colony provoked laughter from scientists who said the plan was impractical, but some voters supported the idea.

10. "Etch a sketch"

Romney's campaign took a hit in March after adviser Eric Fehrnstrom talked on CNN about how the campaign transitioned from the primary to the general election. "You hit a reset button for the fall campaign," he said. "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." The media used the term "etch a sketch" to describe Romney's sometimes changing political positions for months.