Mitt Romney's campaign was thrown into sudden turmoil this week when a video of remarks he made at a Boca Raton donor bash became publicly available, occupying the media's attention and roiling the race. Of course, if Romney's in need of a sympathetic ear, he doesn't have to look any further than his current opponent, President Barack Obama -- whose 2008 candidacy hit a pothole when remarks he made at a donor party of his own, about small-town Midwesterners who get turned off of politics by "clinging" to their "guns and religion" hit the news.
This is the new normal, as far as presidential campaigns and the proliferation of cell phones-turned-recording devices go. But long before every iPhone owner became a potential journalist, candidates on the trail have been tripped up by hot mics, lingering cameras and unexpected footage finding its way into the public eye. Here are a few of our favorites:
WE BOMBED IN D.C.: Is it really true that anyone in the world took it seriously when Ronald Reagan, right before making a regularly scheduled radio address to the nation, said into what was -- unbeknownst to him -- a live mic, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." He was even sort of laughing when he said it? Well, here's what the History Channel says about it:
Although the press throng and his aides in attendance laughed at the obvious joke, the comment unnerved Democratic opposition leaders and those already fearful of the hard-line posturing Reagan had displayed toward the USSR since assuming office in 1981. Others simply dismissed his remark, which came at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as a moment of poor taste.
So take it from the History Channel, the network that brought you "Cajun Pawn Stars."
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS: During the 1992 debates, President George H.W. Bush got into a spot of bother when the wandering camera lens caught him checking his watch -- a moment that was immediately entered into the body of evidence labelled, "President Bush is out of touch." Fair enough! But have you ever watched these presidential debates? All you ever think is, "God, when does this END, already?" And that goes triple anytime Ross Perot is banging on and on about something. If anything, Bush was demonstrating a trait he has in common with ordinary people.
Anyway, as it turns out, the guy is just easily bored!
SPLITTING HAIRS: It's funny to think about how, not long ago, the country was on firm enough footing that John Edwards making a big deal fussing over his hair was something we held to be potentially disqualifying. But those were shallower times, starring much shallower people. There's a lot to be bothered today about in this, like the latent homophobia (Edwards was called "the Breck Girl" and the video of his hair-fussery, as you'll see, was cut against "I Feel Pretty") and the pure phoniness (Maureen Dowd dined out for years on the Edwards hair story, despite the fact that she's four times as ridiculous). Nevertheless, the release of this video was humiliating enough that Edwards had to release "a rebuttal video."
When you really think about it, the thing that sticks out here is that while every politician is precisely as vain as Edwards, the man's real problem was that he was a howling, amoral, philandering monster -- a fact we didn't learn until much later.
WELL, 'MAJOR LEAGUE' IS AT LEAST A COMPLIMENT: The year is 2000, and it's Labor Day in Naperville, Illinois, where George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are, for some reason, campaigning. The crowd is big and the mood is festive and neither man knows that they are standing at a live mic. So when Bush spots New York Times reporter Adam Clymer in the crowd, he figures he'll point him out to Cheney. "There’s Adam Clymer -- major league asshole from The New York Times."
"Yeah, big time," offered Cheney. Jake Tapper, writing for Salon, called the moment "an embarrassing gaffe," but as anyone whom Clymer has promised to pick up at the airport, only to not show up, will tell you, Bush wasn't far off the mark.
WAIT TO EXHALE: Did Al Gore's odd decision to spend the entire first debate with George W. Bush audibly sighing cost him the election? In all honestly, probably not. Because, you know, Florida! And all the stuff that followed after. You know, with the chads. Believe it or not, debate moderator Jim Lehrer would later confess to not having noticed the sighing. "I had a rule about watching the candidate who was talking, never the one who was listening," wrote Lehrer, in his book Tension City, "So despite being the physically closest person in the room ... I ended up missing the most important story of the debate. I didn't want any candidate to use eye contact with me to transmit his own reactions."
Whether or not Gore had any idea that his snark-infused escalations were being heard at home during the debate, his entire performance was captured by week's end by the cast of "Saturday Night Live" and their cold open parody of the debate was perhaps the first time a sketch comedy performance was dissected by a campaign seeking improvement.
Also on HuffPost:
We all know that Benjamin Franklin was an exemplary American, embodying the thrift, industriousness, and political equality we celebrate every Independence Day. He earned the title of "The First American" for his crusade to unite the original American colonies, but his loyalty to the U.S. may not have extended to his marriage. Despite his memorable paeans to the institution (Franklin famously <a href="http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/51-fra.html" target="_hplink">said</a>, "Marriage is the most natural state of man, and...the state in which you will find solid happiness") and his claim that "It is the man and woman united that make the complete human being," Franklin notoriously surrounded himself with female admirers. Though there are <a href="http://www.time.com/time/2003/franklin/bfwomen2.html" target="_hplink">no reports</a> of his consummating his relationships with these much younger, attractive women, Franklin <a href="http://www.time.com/time/2003/franklin/bfwomen.html" target="_hplink">was</a> "a master of amorous friendship...expressed in exchanges of teasing kisses, tender embraces, intimate conversations and rhapsodic love letters, but not necessarily sexual congress." Photo Courtesy of Flickr: mbell1975
Our first president, George Washington, is famous for his <a href="http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/gw/gwmoral.html" target="_hplink">inability to tell a lie</a>. The honest streak that made him famous certainly benefited his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis. Although there is some ambiguity surrounding his relationship with Sally Fairfax, to whom he wrote letters alluding to his affections for her, by all reports any flirtation between the two was <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/books/item_Rcd4C8DfaGj16So9zrbXBM" target="_hplink">never acted upon</a> after Washington married Martha. Photo Courtesy of Flickr: mbell1975
John Adams' marriage to his third cousin Abigail was one of collaboration, communication and codependence. <a href="http://www.thelizlibrary.org/suffrage/abigail.htm" target="_hplink">Correspondence</a> between the two illuminates their mutual devotion and intellectual respect; the pair always <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/adams/peopleevents/e_courtship.html" target="_hplink">referred to one another</a> as "My Dearest Friend." Abigail influenced John politically, <a href="http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/abigailadams.html" target="_hplink">urging him</a> to advocate for the abolition of slavery and against institutionalized sexism. By all accounts, our second president reportedly held his wife in high esteem and the pair shared a happy, faithful and loving marriage. Photo courtesy of Flickr: mbell1975
If there is any American president deserving of a Lothario title, it is certainly Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, who owned hundreds of slaves throughout his life, fathered six children by his "slave concubine" Sally Hemings during <a href="http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account" target="_hplink">a relationship</a> that spanned at least 38 years. Although Jefferson <a href="http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account" target="_hplink">freed</a> all of Sally Hemmings' children, he did not free their mother. Jefferson's wife, Martha, died while giving birth to their sixth child. Photo courtesy of Flickr: Tony the Misfit
John Jay, known as the father of New York and the first Chief Justice of the United States, reportedly shared a happy marriage with his wife, Sarah Livingston. Jay held a greater variety of posts than any of America's other founders, and Sarah acted as a political <a href="http://www.johnjayhomestead.org/images/The_Amiable_Children_Essay.pdf" target="_hplink">liaison and diplomat</a>, "astutely networking with the movers and shakers of the time." John relied on his wife considerably and the couple enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Their marriage was a love match despite their ages -- he was 29, she was 18. Of their marriage, Sarah's brother <a href="http://johnjayhomestead.org/history/historicalessays.html" target="_hplink">wrote</a>, "Mr. & Mrs. Jay can be unhappy no where. They love each other too well..." Photo courtesy of Flickr: Jay Heritage Center
Our fourth president, the "Father of the Constitution" and author of the Bill of Rights, may have been a proponent of dividing power among the branches of government, but he did not believe in dividing his attention among women. James Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, a widow, and adopted her one surviving son. A <a href="http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/madi-dol.htm" target="_hplink">charming, vivacious woman</a>, Dolley sacrificed her place in the Quaker community to which her family belonged in order to marry Madison. Ostracized from the Friends Church for marrying outside her faith, Dolley <a href="http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=4" target="_hplink">assumed the role</a> of White House hostess, holding dinner parties, salons and helping Madison to win reelection in 1812. Photo courtesy of Flickr: lreed76
Alexander Hamilton suffered through one of the first public media scandals of America's history -- but with good reason. The first United States Secretary of Treasury was forced to resign from office out of sheer embarrassment when his three-year extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds became public. Reynolds' husband, a convicted swindler named James Reynolds, blackmailed Hamilton, demanding a fee for his silence. But when a political pamphlet <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/04/25/reviews/990425.25beschlt.html" target="_hplink">revealed</a> the Reynolds liaison, Hamilton admitted, "My crime is an amorous connection with [James Reynolds'] wife." Hamilton responded with his own pamphlet, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/04/25/reviews/990425.25beschlt.html" target="_hplink">publishing</a> an "appallingly thorough account of the affair." Despite Hamilton's partially self-inflicted public humiliation and irreparably damaged reputation, his wife Betsey stood by her man and remained his wife until his untimely death during an <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande17.html" target="_hplink">infamous duel</a> at the hands of political opponent Aaron Burr. Photo courtesy of Flickr: Marion Doss Photo