Happy "What About Your Gaffes?" Day

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 31 2013 7:37 PM

Happy "What About Your Gaffes?" Day

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Like it or not, gaffes actually make a difference.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

We can't let the anniversary go without commemoration. One year ago today, in Poland, Mitt Romney was leaving a memorial in full view of the press. Reporters Ashley Parker (New York Times) and Phil Rucker (Washington Post), who'd embedded on the pricey trip, shouted questions that they knew the candidate could hear. It was Rucker who asked what Alex Pareene called "a perfect beautiful little 2012 campaign zen koan that should be buried in a time capsule that is never ever dug up."

The question was: "What about your gaffes?"

The campaign that followed was surfeited with "gaffes." Weeks later, the Republicans would base seemingly 75 percent of their convention on the shame of Barack Obama's "you didn't build that" comments. Weeks after that, the leak of a video from a Romney fundraiser—the "47 percent" tape—would do so much damage to the candidate that we know the Obama campaign started to consider the race won. (They panicked again after the debate in Denver.)

But few gaffes are "47 percent"-sized. During the election, GWU's John Sides tried and tried to show the press evidence that the gaffes that captivated them didn't move the electorate. Sides is coming out with The Gamble, an exegesis of 2012 campaign data. One of my favorite charts, from a chapter titled "What About Your Gaffes?," shows how little the polls moved after every explosion.

photo (5)

"Romney Olympics" was the gaffe he made en route to Europe, worrying that London was behind on Olympics prep. Yes, it offended Brits, but it didn't matter. Every year, on this day, let us raise a glass and remember how little gaffes actually affect presidential campaigns.

Oh, and toast the Polish people. Show some respect.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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