Gaffes Are A Staple Of Political Debates

Mitt Romney's "bet" just the latest in a series of gaffes that have marked debate history.

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As political gaffes go, Mitt Romney's $10,000 "bet" may not be such a big deal.

In the latest Republican presidential debate on Saturday night, the former Massachusetts governor offered to wager Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,000 over whether Romney had ever favored a national plan to require individuals to buy health insurance. Pundits and Democrats jumped on the wager as a mistake that reminded everyone that Romney is a millionaire many times over. The critics said Romney seemed insensitive to everyday Americans who can't afford to be so cavalier with their money.

All this could hurt Romney's image, especially when magnified by the media and the Democrats. But when compared with other debate gaffes in the past, his error may be seen as minor league:

  • In 1960, Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon refused a full makeup treatment and looked pale and fragile during his debate with Democrat John F. Kennedy. Nixon also sweat profusely on camera and seemed shifty-eyed. People who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon won but those who saw it on TV thought he lost.
  • In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford botched an answer on whether Eastern Europe was under Soviet domination. It added to his reputation as a lightweight.
  • In 1988, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis gave an unemotional and cerebral reply to a hypothetical question when he confirmed his opposition to the death penalty even for a person who had raped and murdered his wife. The answer made Dukakis seem like an unfeeling technocrat.
  • In 1988, Republican vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle invited derision when he compared himself to John F. Kennedy. Lloyd Bentsen, his Democratic opponent, happily pounced, saying Kennedy was a friend of his and "you're no Jack Kennedy." Quayle was shown on camera with a deer-in-the headlights look.
  • In 1992, President George H. W. Bush looked at his watch during a debate, making him seem aloof and unable to emapthize with Americans suffering through an economic downturn.
  • In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore sighed audibly and seemed too much of a know-it-all when he debated Republican George W. Bush.
  • Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry couldn't remember one of the cabinet departments he has promised to abolish--the Department of Energy. His response amid this brain freeze--"oops"--quickly became a code word for making a big mistake in a campaign debate.
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