They Said What? GOP Gaffes, Goofs, and Gaucherie
Policy + Politics

They Said What? GOP Gaffes, Goofs, and Gaucherie

Robert Galbraith, Joshua Lott, Brian Snyder, Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

It looks like former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is losing it – and not just his Big Mo in Michigan. With polls and prognosticators pointing to a comeback victory for Mitt Romney in his home state of Michigan and in Arizona in Tuesday’s GOP primaries, the once-surging Santorum, increasingly under the glare of the political spotlight, has been delivering some wacky commentary in recent days.

A champion of the Christian right and of family values, Santorum opined last week that President Obama wanted more young adults to attend college so that they could undergo “indoctrination” into a secular worldview. “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely,” Santorum told conservative television host Glenn Beck.

Santorum’s wife, Karen, also lobbed a few eyebrow-raising comments. She told Beck that while she had initially been wary of her husband’s run for the presidency, she finally concluded that it was “God’s will.”

Santorum, of course, has been raising the eyebrows and blood pressure of many of his detractors for the past couple of weeks with his heavily moralistic and dubious pronouncements.  He’s invoked the rise of Hitler to illustrate the importance of a Republican win over Obama this year; questioned women’s use of contraception and prenatal testing; suggested that home schooling is preferable to an “anachronistic” public school system; and dismissed global warming as a “hoax.”

He also did not repudiate comments he made in speech more than three years ago, in which he suggested Satan had “his sights” on the United States. His words from 2008, during a speech in Naples, Florida: “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war at all. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies, Satan, would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America.”

Every presidential campaign, Republican or Democrat, has had its share of bizarre moments, miscalculation and misspeak over the years. But the 2012 GOP primary season seems in a class by itself right now, with the final four candidates – Santorum, Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul – providing plenty of grist for the mill. Here, our picks for the most head-shaking examples of political foot-in-mouth disease:

Baby, You Can Drive My … Cadillacs?
Mitt Romney, desperately seeking a victory in a state that elected his father governor three times, couldn’t help himself in Michigan on Friday. While making a major economics speech to about 1,000 businessmen assembled on the 30-yard line of the otherwise empty Detroit Ford Field, he veered into risky off-the-cuff territory.

First, he reprised his much-hooted observation that in his home state, “the trees are the right height” and “the streets are just right.” The fantastically wealthy former Bain Capital executive – already under fire for a seeming lack of sensitivity toward the poor and the common – then went on to tell the Motor City crowd that while he drove “a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck,” his wife, Ann, “drives a couple of Cadillacs.”

At least he didn’t say that she drives a Mercedes Benz.

Romney also spoke about the value of getting a good discount – at a graveyard. In an effort to show he was frugal, Romney told a story about his father. “My dad is a very frugal man, and he checked all over for the best deal was on a gravesite,” said Romney. “And he found a place in Brighton – because we didn't live in Brighton. It’s like, ‘How did you pick Brighton, Dad?’ ‘Well, best price I could find in the whole state.’”


Previous Romney remarks have also drawn attention to his wealth – and haunted his campaign. In New Hampshire in early January, Romney donned his “I’m a regular guy” hat. He told a crowd in Rochester that he, too, had felt the fear of losing a job. “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired,” he said. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.” Just last June he also noted that he, too, was “unemployed.” (The Romney family fortune is estimated to be in the $250 million range.)

Earlier this month, Romney also said this in an interview: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine.” He added, “There’s no question, it’s not good being poor… My campaign is focused on middle-income Americans.”

Fly Me to the Moon – and Mars
Throughout the campaign former House speaker Newt Gingrich has been touting his lavish dreams of a lunar colony to take advantage of the moon’s mineral resources. He especially pushed the notion while campaigning in Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center. “By the end of my second term,” he proclaimed, “we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.” By 2020, he added, there will be regular flights to Mars.

The Cinderella Policy
In November, Gingrich created a firestorm during a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government when he advocated for the end of child labor laws. He said that child labor restrictions do “more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy.” Said Gingrich, “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in… child laws, which are truly stupid. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school,” he added. “The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Gingrich also predicted last year what the future might look like for his grandchildren if liberals ran the country. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” he said, “by the time they’re my age, they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

High-Flying Politicians?
Not to be outdone, the libertarian Ron Paul, long a small government proponent, had this to say: “The government itself runs a fraud much bigger than Madoff’s. Our Social Security system is the very definition of a Ponzi, or pyramid scheme. If the government truly had an interest in protecting people’s savings, they would allow people to opt out of Social Security altogether. We would cut wasteful spending, such as our overseas empire, to honor current obligations to seniors, and eventually phase the program out. Instead, as with Enron and Sarbanes Oxley, I expect new, unrelated legislation to be proposed that further damages freedom in the name of protecting us.”

Paul has also said: “It’s time to treat all drugs the way we treat alcohol and cigarettes, substances that kill millions more than hard drugs do. The drug war allows drug lords to make a lot more money than legalized drugs ever would.”