When a political candidate makes a solid point during a debate, it’s a thing of beauty. It is a delicate chemistry of logic, facts, and charm, broadcasted effortlessly into living rooms across America. But then there’s the rest of the time. Broken teleprompters. Butchered names. Awkward touching. And neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is immune. In honor of Romney and Obama’s first head-to-head presidential debate on Wednesday, let’s take a look at the best of the worst of their debates so far.
1. FAILING The Multiple-Choice Abortion Test
Back in 1994, when Mitt Romney was campaigning for Senate against Ted Kennedy, he professed his love of safe, legal abortions. Kennedy’s debate retort, delivered here at 0:17, was an instant classic: “I am pro-choice. My opponent is multiple choice.”
Turns out Teddy was more right than he knew: During the GOP presidential primary debates in 2007, Romney said he’d be “delighted” to sign a bill banning abortion, or to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
2. SHOW US THE TAX RETURNS!
Asked by John King in a January GOP primary debate if he would follow his father’s example in releasing multiple years’ worth of personal tax returns, Romney answered with a cryptic grin and a single word: “Maybe!” Judging from his subsequent hemming and hawing and the audience’s boos, even conservatives were nonplussed by Mitt’s noncommittal answer.
On one hand, Romney’s been pretty consistent in his tax return convictions since 2002, as evidenced by this clip from his gubernatorial debate. But on the other hand, your first reaction to the question “Do you have something to hide?” should probably not be the creepy laugh at 0:15 here.
3. YOU BET YOUR LIFE. OR 10 GRAND. WHICHEVER.
Rick Perry knocked Romneycare last December, saying the first run of the Massachusetts governor’s book, No Apology, proved he was an Obamacare fan: “You were for individual mandates, my friend.” Romney swore it wasn’t true. He was willing to put money on it. Just a teeny bit of money. For him.
4. TOUCHING ME, TOUCHING YOU
Then there was the time last October when a debate over Romney’s allegedly undocumented gardener turned physical. Spoiler alert: Awkward cackle at 0:23, awkward touching at 0:33. Good thing Rick Perry wasn’t armed.
5. The One Where The Gay Vietnam Vet
Gets the Best of Mitt
Okay, so it’s not a structured debate, with a moderator and clocks and blinking lights. But in the age-old New England tradition of town hall meetings and gripefests, Romney took the third degree on same-sex marriage last December from a New Hampshire Vietnam veteran who was sitting down to breakfast with his life partner. (You can see the bad moon rising when Romney tries to make small talk—”’66 to ’67…I was, let’s see, I would’ve been, ah”—and the vet responds, “Some college kid.”)
Romney, parroting his conservative talking points, seems oblivious to the men’s relationship: “I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.” The vet, barely containing his outrage, replies: “You have to look a man in the eye to get a good answer. You know what, Governor? Good luck.” Ew. Awkward!
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
1. Obama plans to call the president of canada
Obama, who at the time was under fire for his lack of foreign policy experience, made an ill-timed gaffe about our northern neighbor in August 2007. He promised he would try to amend NAFTA by calling “the president of Mexico, the president of Canada.” Insert awkward moment where you remember that Canada has a prime minister. And you learned that in high school.
2. change you can xerox
Remember when Hillary Clinton accused Obama of ripping off his speeches from Deval Patrick? Well, in this February 2008 debate, Obama doesn’t exactly defend himself; instead, he nonmodestly says his speeches are “pretty good,” then changes the subject. Clinton got the real zinger: “Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.”
3. the TERRIFYING disappearing teleprompter
Observe President Obama, largely considered to be one of the top presidential orators of all time, melt into a quivering pile of debate team mush when his teleprompter goes out at town hall meeting. He inexplicably decides to go with the “I didn’t get enough sleep” excuse.
4. Obama forgets deceased soldier’s name
It should have been a touching debate moment: Obama wore a “hero bracelet” commemorating a soldier killed in Iraq. But not only was there controversy over whether Obama was going against the family’s wishes by wearing the bracelet, but he seemingly forgot the soldier’s name.
5. Obama wins nobel peace prize for…preemptive peace?
Obviously, Obama didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize during a debate, but it was one of the more awkward moments of his early presidency. The New York Times tried to characterize it as the committee’s rejection of George W. Bush, but even Obama seemed baffled.