Scandals That Crippled Presidential Campaigns

You thought Donald Trump feuding with the Pope was bad? Just wait until you get a load of these election scandals that ruined political careers for good. Bill Clinton's Oval Office escapades are nowhere near as cringeworthy as these controversies that rocked the White House.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams go to war

The first presidential election that George Washington wasn't in was one of the ugliest. Federalist John Adams was considered a shoo-in for the presidency in 1796, and he won—with one caveat. His opponent, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, ended up winning the vice presidency because of the way the electoral rules played out at the time. The two got little accomplished because they disagreed on absolutely everything. When the election of 1800 rolled around, Jefferson beat Adams, but not without a slew of mudslinging from both parties. Federalists dubbed Jefferson a heretic for advocating a strict separation of church and state, while Democratic-Republicans attacked Adams for infringing on individual rights (like the freedom of speech) with his infamous Alien and Sedition Acts, which essentially made criticizing Adams illegal.

John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson make it personal

The election of 1824 was pretty ugly. John Quincy Adams attacked Andrew Jackson for being a cuckold, which wasn't quite true. Jackson had married his wife, Rachel Robards, thinking she finalized her divorce from her ex-husband, but the paperwork hadn't been totally done yet. (Before computers, those things took even longer.) Jackson retaliated with claims that Adams had sold an American girl into sex slavery to get Imperial Russia to make diplomatic concessions. It turns out that the people thought Adams' alleged offense was worse, and Jackson won the election.

Grover Cleveland's baby mama drama

Grover Cleveland had a pretty spotless reputation when he nabbed the Democratic nomination for president in 1884, but his opponents would soon use his personal life against him. The media exposed him for having an illegitimate son by a woman named Maria Halpin. Legend has it that Halpin was involved with several of Cleveland's married business partners and he took financial responsibility for the boy to save his colleagues' relationships. When opposition protesters chanted "Ma, ma, where's my pa" at his campaign rallies, Cleveland, who still won the election, chuckled, "On his way to the White House." However, the unofficial story may be uglier. The Daily Beast reports that Cleveland's one-night stand with Halpin, a young widow with two children from her marriage, may not have been consensual. She also was reportedly institutionalized briefly and had the child taken away from her. Yikes.

Richard Nixon gets ugly

In September 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy competed in the first televised presidential debate in history. However, the winner of this particular debate depended on which medium voters used to consume it. Radio listeners thought Nixon slayed Kennedy, but the 74 million television viewers who watched the debate thought Kennedy wiped the floor with Nixon. Time reports that Nixon was "pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty, while Kennedy appeared calm and confident." Kennedy's good looks (and his amazing makeup team, which Nixon lacked) pretty much won him the presidency.

George McGovern's nightmare running mate

Popular Democrat George McGovern was slated to give Richard Nixon one heck of a run for his money in 1972, until an anonymous senator allegedly told journalist Robert Novak that McGovern was "the candidate of amnesty [for draft dodgers], abortion, and acid." To temper the hyper-liberal accusations, McGovern's team selected a moderate, nearly right-leaning Democrat, Thomas Eagleton, to be his vice presidential running mate. (Eagleton even has America's mascot in his name! How much more perfect a candidate can you have?)

Unfortunately, reporters soon got wind that Eagleton had undergone electroshock therapy and numerous hospital stays to treat his chronic depression. These allegations scared a lot of voters and party brass into thinking Eagleton wouldn't be suitable for the job. McGovern's camp scrambled to find a replacement, eventually settling on Sargent Shriver, but the damage to the campaign was irreparable, and Nixon won the election by a landslide. In a particularly cruel twist ending, NPR reports that Novak claims Eagleton was the one who disparaged McGovern as being a kook.

Gary Hart's cheatin' heart

Gary Hart was the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential race in 1987 when rumors surfaced that he was cheating on his wife. Hart scoffed at the accusations, telling reporters, "Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." Unfortunately for Hart, they already were. The Miami Herald snapped photos of 29-year-old Donna Rice entering and leaving Hart's home at pretty suspicious hours of the night. While Hart and even his wife made public statements maintaining that his relationship with Rice was platonic and innocent, all signs pointed to the opposite of that. Reporters eventually nabbed a photograph of Rice sitting on Hart's lap on his boat, aptly named Monkey Business, without his wife. A humiliated Hart dropped out of the race (and the public eye) soon after.