There’s no time like Thanksgiving time to look back on the year that’s past and reflect on all there is to be thankful for. And in an election year jam-packed with hilarious, embarrassing, and game-changing moments, the reflecting is good.
So for those who missed the big Turkey Day parade, here is a Hardball parade for you, complete with all the primary season highlights (and lowlights.) There may not be any giant balloons, but giant political gaffes can be just as much fun to watch.
1. 10-to-1 deal or no deal
Kicking off the parade of primary season memories is that infamous moment during a Fox News debate on Aug. 11, 2011, when moderator Bret Baier asked the eight GOP presidential hopefuls on stage whether they would walk away from a deal that combines both spending cuts and tax increases, even in the widely unbalanced ratio of 10-to-1 favoring spending cuts. All eight raised their hands, indicating that they would walk away from pretty much any deal that raises taxes.
And the crowd went wild.
“That moment sort of solidified the rest of the story for that primary,” said former RNC chairman Michael Steele on Hardball Friday.
From that moment on, the primary seemed to transform overnight into a nasty contest of who could out-right the person standing at the podium next door. The more moderate candidates were the first to fall. But in hindsight, the one who suffered most from this extreme conservatism contest ended up being the person who scored the nomination.
“That was the beginning and the end for Jon Huntsman,” the most moderate of the presidential contenders, said Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman on Hardball Friday. “But it was also in the long term the beginning of the end for Mitt Romney… He began to lock himself into a position of ‘Grover Norquisting’ himself for the whole election.”
The unanimous rejection of the 10-to-1 deal was a critical moment in the GOP primary, and one that came to symbolize the far-right extremism that was dominating the party and pulling the candidates farther from the bulk of the American electorate.
Said Fineman, “I guess you could say that whatever an early primary season crowd claps for furiously, as happened in that video, is going to kill you Oct. 15 in Ohio.”
2. Newt’s “Baggage” ad
No discussion of the 2012 presidential election would be complete without including the pervasive influence of attack ads, which flooded the airwaves at record highs while presenting truthful content at record lows.
Few ads were quite as lethal as the one the Romney camp rolled out attacking Newt Gingrich in the leadup to the Iowa caucuses.
The ad, appropriately titled “Baggage,” went after Gingrich’s record as speaker of the House and vilified his ties to both Freddie Mac and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“In primaries, [political ads] are deadly, particularly in Republican primaries,” said Steele. The “Baggage” ad was so effective, he continued, because it said of Gingrich, “he’s an insider, he’s a Washington pal, and look, he even pals around with Nancy Pelosi. Didn’t we just fire her?”
“That [ad] was symbolic of the entire Mitt Romney campaign strategy in the primaries, which was a sort of take no prisoners, attack the other guy strategy,” said Fineman. “It wasn’t about philosophy. It did nothing to show that Mitt Romney was a committed conservative. It just showed that Mitt Romney has tons of money and some very clever consultants, who could carve up anybody in his path.”
3. Romney’s “self-deportation” recommendation
One of the deciding factors in this year’s election was the powerful influence of Latino voters, who turned out near-record levels of support for President Obama on Nov. 6.
Looking back, this may have been the exact moment when Romney forever obliterated his chances of appealing to that all-important voting bloc.
“The answer is self-deportation,” said Mitt Romney at a Jan. 23 NBC debate in response to a question about his stance on illegal immigration. “People decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here.”
The phrase “self-deportation” drew laughs from the crowd and almost immediately became a national headline.
“It’s just not realistic,” said Steele of Romney’s prescription for the nation’s immigration problem.
But perhaps more problematic than the comment’s inherent ridiculousness was what it revealed about Romney’s approach to viewing large swaths of the population.
“They’re just numbers on a spreadsheet,” said Fineman.
4. The “oops” heard ‘round the world
Like all good parades, Hardball has saved the best for last, and Rick Perry’s “oops” moment is our version of the Santa Claus float.
At a CNBC debate on Nov. 9, 2011, Perry came out swinging when he began to tackle the agencies of government he would eliminate as president. But his response took a turn for the humiliating when could not name the third agency he would do away with.
“And I will tell you, it’s three agencies of government that are gone when I get there,” said a confident Perry. “Commerce, Education, and… what’s the third one there, let’s see.”
After bumbling for a bit and tearing through his notes for the answer, Perry threw in the towel and said, “I can’t, the third one, I’m sorry… oops.”
“I never heard an ‘oops’ before in a national debate,” exclaimed Hardball host Chris Matthews of the cringe-worthy gaffe that knocked Perry out of contention.
“What this shows to me about the primary season is how evanescent the leaders of the race were,” concluded Fineman. “We had five of them I perhaps inartfully referred to as ‘the clown posse.’ But when they all left the stage, Mitt Romney was the guy left standing more by the process of elimination.”
And there you have it, Hardball’s political parade of primary season moments. Whether you’re thankful for the memories, or just thankful the election is over, Hardball wants to wish everyone a very happy holiday.