Politicians Who Ruined Their Careers On Live TV

Billionaire Warren Buffett said it best when he once stated, "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." It also might explain why the tycoon never caved into the temptation to dive into the political snake pit, one that yields a multitude of scandalous secrets, as well as a slew of unlucky candidates who failed to crawl their way out of that contentious crater. Questionably, the likes of Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene seem to have somehow avoided that perilous freefall, although the list of like-minded colleagues who fell short is a lengthy one indeed.

However, for all his brilliance, Buffett miscalculated the effects of technology on how someone's credibility can be wiped out in seconds, thanks to the leaps and bounds made by communications tech. While social media is touted as the preferred forum to witness career-ending gaffes committed by politicians, live TV still offers an occasional ringside seat for folks to catch a lawmaker say or do something damaging enough to change one's status from hero to zero. Whether it involved a politician denying his culpability in the mother of all scandals or a British statesman hosting Yuletide parties during a pandemic lockdown, evidently the camera never lies. Here's a look at a few pivotal moments these personalities wish they could take back.

Stephanie Bannister's ignorance put an end to her campaign

Long before misinformation campaigns could score cushy Congressional gigs, politicians relied on credibility when running for public office. In short, it helped to get your facts straight, a lesson Australian candidate Stephanie Banister had to learn the hard way in 2013. While running in her riding of Rankin in the state of Queensland with the far right-leaning party One Nation, her interview on the Channel Seven network demonstrated how ill-equipped she was for public office. "I don't oppose Islam as a country," Banister said at one point, per the BBC, "but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia." She then added, "Jews aren't under haram; they have their own religion which follows Jesus Christ."

She continuously mispronounced the Qu'ran as "haram," also not recognizing that Judaism views Christ as a mortal. More astute Aussies took to social media to ridicule Banister to the point where she quit her campaign. However, the failed candidate the media dubbed as the "Australian Sarah Palin" claimed Channel Seven edited the interview to deflate her integrity. "Unfortunately, they've completely twisted all my words and made me out to be a stand-up criminal and a stupid moron,” she said to Fairfax Media (per the Sydney Morning Herald).

Jeb Bush asked his following to clap

In June 2015, when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush threw his hat into the Republican ring to represent the party as the country's next president, he quickly became the front-runner. That month, an NBC News poll had him as a clear favorite, grabbing 22% of the tally. At the time, Donald Trump barely registered at 1%. Eight months later, Bush packed it in, unable to catch the tailwinds that vaulted Trump into a commanding lead. Some pundits blamed pedigree for the ill-fated campaign, given that Jeb's father and elder brother, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, were both controversial presidents when in office. "He starts life as a political meme, because he comes to the digital world dragging his family behind him, his analog family story behind him," noted Encyclopedia of Social Media and Politics editor Kerric Harvey to NPR. "He cannot be separated from his own narrative."

More telling was Bush's message failing to captivate Republicans. Unlike Trump, whose plainspoken, albeit insult-laden, verbosity attracted a growing base of admirers, Bush was hardly an inspiring orator. Trump even picked up on his opponent's weak execution, calling him "a very low-energy kind of guy," per Vox. That telling moment before the cameras summed up just how badly he was doing with his own crowd. In one instance, after his explaining his take on national security, which went over with not even a hint of applause, Bush added quietly, "Please clap."

Liz Cheney tried to dump Trump on the tube

Unlike other politicians, whose self-destruction on live TV is usually associated with wrongdoings, former Congresswoman Liz Cheney derailed her political career in front of the cameras out of principle. What resembled a martyr operation started from her own personal disgust over the actions of President (and fellow Republican) Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the Capitol building to overturn what his supporters declared was a fake election lost by their defiant leader. Cheney's stance on Trump's actions didn't go over well with her Congressional Republican colleagues, who, in May 2021, removed her from the conference chair, the party's third-highest post in the House of Representatives. Before that fateful vote, she said during a speech given in the House, "I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy," per CBS News.

But her comments the following month are what led to the end of her political career. As the vice chair of the House Select Committee investigating the riot, Cheney tore a strip off her political colleagues during her opening remarks covered by all of America's TV networks. "Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain," she said, per NPR. In August of 2022, Cheney lost her Wyoming seat in a state primary.

Bill Clinton lied about his affair with a White House intern

By the time William Jefferson Clinton was elected president in 1992, he was already deep in scandal. Whitewater was the biggest, when Clinton (then governor of Arkansas) and his wife Hillary teamed up with two fraudulent investors in a venture that went bust. He was also still scrutinized for previous alleged affairs with the likes of Arkansas public employee Paula Jones and singer Gennifer Flowers. But the one accusation Clinton couldn't dodge involved the surfacing of a salacious incident with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in 1998. Leaked by the Drudge Report in January of 1998, the story threatened the credibility of the president, prompting him to tell Americans on live TV, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

By August, after his grand jury testimony concerning the affair, Clinton admitted he lied about the affair and that he did have an intimate relationship with Lewinsky. "I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression I misled people including even my wife," he said on a live TV broadcast. "I deeply regret that." By December, the House of Representatives impeached Clinton for obstruction of justice and lying to the grand jury, although an acquittal from the Senate two months later let him off the hook. Even though Clinton survived that impeachment and completed his second term in office, he would continue to be haunted by that televised lie for years after.

Hillary Clinton insulted Donald Trump's base

Like husband Bill, Hillary Clinton is no stranger to scandal, even demonstrating a Teflon-like ability to deflect any allegations directed at her. She overcame everything from the Whitewater real estate deal that went south to her handling of the 2012 attack by militant Libyans in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans when she was secretary of state. But Clinton's comeuppance took place in 2016 while facing Donald Trump for the presidency. Although she made several mistakes during her campaign, the one that most likely alienated her from millions of Americans took place while speaking at a New York fundraiser in September of that year. "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the 'basket of deplorables,' Right?" she said amid a din of laughter.

That swipe against Trump's growing support base definitely entertained her audience at the event, but Trump supporters salivated at the fodder she had just dumped at their door. "Just when Hillary Clinton said she was going to start running a positive campaign, she ripped off her mask and revealed her true contempt for everyday Americans," responded Trump's communication adviser Jason Miller, per The Guardian. "Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!" Trump added in a tweet. He was right and wound up defeating Clinton in the federal election in November.

Michael Dukakis tanked at a hilarious media conference

During the summer of 1988, polls indicated that Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis had a commanding lead over Republican nominee George H.W. Bush to succeed retiring President Ronald Reagan. In response, the electoral team assembled by the hawkish Bush – Reagan's former vice president and one-time director of the CIA – decided to hammer away at Dukakis' stance on curbing military spending, thus making the Democrat look weak on national defense policy. That's when the Dukakis brain trust decided to stage a photo-op of their guy riding an M1 Abrams tank at a media conference to counteract the assertion. The demonstration was a fiasco as Dukakis — who also sported an oversized helmet — was dwarfed by the tank.

"Everyone around me in the press corps was doing the same thing, either laughing or pointing or looking at each other, like, "What's this? How can he do this to himself?" recalled former ABC reporter Sam Donaldson to FiveThirtyEight. The Bush team cobbled the event footage into a successful ad that turned Dukakis into a laughingstock and eventual loser in the presidential race. Looking back years later, Dukakis agreed the tank stunt was a bad idea, although he thought it would help his platform for a more gradual buildup of the military. "I was at the tank factory to make that point, obviously," Dukakis said to U.S. News and World Report. "Now, should I have been in the tank? Probably not, in retrospect."

Boris Johnson lost his cool over parties during COVID

During his time in office, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was never at a loss for words when he extolled the virtues of his own government or verbally tore massive strips off his opposition. But in the wake of COVID, Johnson found himself tongue-tied when taken to task over his partying when the U.K. was in lockdown. The "Partygate" scandal started in November 2021 when a Daily Mirror story revealed that Johnson was hosting Yuletide festivities at his 10 Downing Street residence in December 2020, violating the very coronavirus quarantine restrictions his government put in place. Johnson denied the allegations of the party breaking lockdown protocol, telling the BBC in December, "All the guidelines were observed."

The scandal continued to dog Johnson throughout 2022, with a "Partygate" investigation underway. But even after surviving a no-confidence revolt from the opposition, he announced his resignation as prime minister after most of his cabinet jumped ship. Johnson still held a seat as a member of parliament, but even that was in jeopardy in light of a privileges committee hearing into the scandal. At that hearing in March 2023, MPs grilled a defiant Johnson for hours over his complicity in violating quarantine regulations, until the former leader was reduced to a stammering mess, who finally blurted out "This is complete nonsense!" before trying to stutter his way out of trouble. Four months later, Johnson left politics, just before the committee released its damaging report.

Richard Nixon denied his involvement in Watergate

Arguably the most infamous American scandal began in Washington D.C. in 1972 when authorities caught a gaggle of wiretapping operatives breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, uncovering a trail of conspiracies that led to the White House, in particular President Richard Nixon. Despite mounting evidence, Nixon defiantly maintained his innocence. "I'm not a crook," he declared on live TV in 1973. "I earned everything I've got." But a release of tapes recorded in the Oval Office confirmed Nixon's complicity in the Watergate scandal, leading to his resignation in 1974 before Congress was about to impeach him.

Leaving his post in disgrace was one thing; public ridicule that haunted Nixon until his death in 1994 was another. Nixon's infamous "crook" speech morphed into a comedic cottage industry, as entertainers like satirist David Frye, impressionist Rich Little, and "Saturday Night Live" performer Dan Aykroyd gleefully mocked the president's distinctive voice and appearance, while humor publications like MAD Magazine regularly caricatured Nixon's visage. Years later, shows like "Futurama" and "Last Week Tonight" continued that lengthy tradition. "Perhaps no other modern president has been impersonated, parodied and portrayed so often, and why not?" wrote CNN contributor Todd Leopold, months before a similarly-ridiculed Donald Trump became president. "The brilliant and tragic Nixon was positively Shakespearean: jowly, with a swooping nose, guttural voice, unfortunate grin and overeager victory-sign pose, combined with the mind of a chess player and the eyes of an obsessive." 

Dr. Oz was out of touch with American consumers

Millions of Americans could relate to celebrity physician Mehmet Oz for his take on medical issues on his popular daytime TV show. Too bad the good doctor couldn't reciprocate that same engaging attribute when running for a Pennsylvania seat in the U.S. Senate in 2022. The Republican candidate demonstrated how out of touch he was with the average citizen when a shopping video, in which he complained about Democrats being responsible for inflating food prices, blew up in his face. He lamented about how rising vegetable prices made it tougher to create crudité, a French word meaning salad and a term the average working class citizen is unlikely to be familiar with. Democrat rival John Fetterman quickly exploited Oz's social disconnect. "In PA [Pennsylvania], we call this a veggie tray," Fetterman declared in his rebuttal video. "If this looks like anything other than a veggie tray to you, then I am not your candidate."

Outmaneuvered, Oz tried to explain away his gaffe on right-leaning channel Newsmax (via Breaking Points), including how he also got the store's name wrong. "I was exhausted," Oz admitted. "When you're campaigning 18 hours a day ... I've gotten my kids' names wrong as well. I don't think that's a measure of someone's ability to lead the Commonwealth." That live response damaged his chances of winning even more, as media of all political stripes cringed and expressed their universal disapproval. Oz lost the election to Fetterman in November.

Herschel Walker saw his electoral hopes go limp

Legendary football running back Herschel Walker made quick use of his feet to scramble for more than 8,000 yards during his years in the NFL. But with one of those feet firmly planted in his mouth, Walker didn't garner much distance while running for Congress. While running for senator in Georgia, the Republican hopeful committed plenty of gaffes, including an attempt to market his more erotic side while speaking at a rally in Toccoa. "Guys, I'm 220 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal," Walker boasted (via PatriotTakes), oblivious over the number of times sex has brought down many a politician. When allegations surfaced that Walker had paid for two abortions, an issue universally scorned among Republicans, the candidate flatly denied them. 

But it was on live TV during an interview with Fox News op-ed host Sean Hannity that Walker most likely blew his chances for the Georgia seat. Flanked by Senate powerhouses Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, Walker had the chance to air his thoughts about his bid to win the post. "First of all, this election is more than Herschel Walker, this erection is about the people," he said, in a slip of the tongue that caused his two colleagues to quizzically look at him. The embarrassing mispronunciation garnered lots of mileage everywhere from a guffaw on "The Tonight Show" to a hashtag trend on X, formerly known as Twitter, and was a major contributor to Walker losing that election in the December runoff.