For this week at least, Bush’s torment defined his candidacy as passive, disaffected and out of touch. But he can take solace in one thing: Sometime soon, someone else on the campaign trail -- more like campaign trial -- is going to slip up and give the media some more grist for the “Did he really say that?” mill. It won’t always be fair, and it won’t always matter, but it is inevitable.
So this seems a good moment to talk about gaffes -- a term that we in the media have taken to using all too promiscuously in recent years. Gaffes come in all shapes and sizes. The famous “Kinsley gaffe” -- a wry distillation named after the term’s inventor, Michael Kinsley -- is an instance in which a pol accidentally tells the truth. But these days, politicians can commit all sorts of gaffes.
A tired candidate, delivering a stump speech for the 11th time in 36 hours, might misplace a pronoun or elide sentences together and enunciate something unintended. Or, they may say something in a joking mood that someone else takes way too seriously, or which lands badly. (Google “We begin bombing in five minutes.”)
Sometimes, a politician might get through an oration without a single goof. But in an age of well-funded opposition research, including armies of trackers and meme-generators, there are plenty of ways to read a candidate’s words unfairly. And there are plenty of reporters willing to pick up the phone when these campaign dark-artists call.
There are ongoing arguments, of course, on whether gaffes matter. A lot of research suggests that the public simply tunes out the gaffe melodrama. A lot of evidence suggests the media are the real clowns, every time a gaffe story breaks. But every so often, someone says something that has real, unexpected, substantive impact on their candidacy and the conversation. It falls to the media to discern the serious from the frivolous.
Fortunately, in this young election cycle, just about every candidate has said something that the chattering class has deemed to be dumb. We’ve taken on the task of listing the most memorable of these, ranking them here from the most serious, to the most frivolous. How did we do? Feel free to check our work and make your own argument! It will only make us better at giving you less hype, and more substance.
Candidate Photos: Getty, Associated Press