Embarrassing Videos That Nearly Ruined Famous Politicians

You'd think that most politicians would be so well-media trained that they'd rarely slip up. Yet, while some are clearly better at speaking than others, practically all of them say weirdly inappropriate things. 

Of course, the best part is when it gets captured on video, isn't it? Thanks to TV outlets and YouTube, you can almost string together an entire history of the United States by just binging on videos of political gaffes throughout the years. OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But there's definitely enough footage out there to keep you delightfully entertained for an afternoon.

So kick off your shoes, get the ice cream out, and put in your headphones, because we've rounded up some of the funniest and most embarrassing videos that nearly ruined famous politicians. Be prepared to laugh, cry, throw things at your computer screen, and maybe even curl up in the fetal position in disgust. 

Howard Dean's "I Have a Scream" speech

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean seemed to be the one to beat in 2004, when he was running in the Democratic presidential primaries. But when he got only third place in the Iowa caucus, things suddenly started to look bleak. Dean wasn't giving up, though. Instead, he decided to fire up his audiences with a rousing speech — which ended in a weird moment that derailed everything. 

Trying to get his audience pumped about the upcoming primary elections, he shouted: "Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin. We're going to South Carolina! And Oklahoma! And Arizona! And North Dakota! And New Mexico! We're going to California! And Texas! And New York! And we're going to South Dakota! And Oregon! And Washington and Michigan! And then we're going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House!" Then, he let out an odd-sounding, other-worldly scream: "Aaaaaaaghh!"

While the scream didn't seem that bad, the speech was played constantly on TV. One former campaign member, Nicco Mele, told NBC News that the TV replays of the speech were what killed Dean's image. "It played into a long-running media narrative about Dean's intensity — a media narrative that many of us never felt was very fair." Dean withdrew from the race a month later.

Jeb Bush begs the audience to "please clap"

At one point, Jeb Bush was the front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries. As the brother and son to two former presidents, a heavy amount of PAC money was floated his way, and conservatives had high hopes. Yet, his image seemed to dwindle pretty quickly, no thanks to the notoriously awkward moment during a New Hampshire campaign speech

He said to the audience: "I think the president needs to be a lot quieter, but to send a signal that we're prepared to act in the national security interests of this country, to get back in the business of creating a more peaceful world." Obviously expecting that to be a slam-dunk applause line, Bush paused. When the audience had no reaction, he then cocked his head and implored, "Please clap." The crowd dutifully responded.

Of course, he was promptly roasted by news media everywhere. MSNBC even called it "heartbreaking." However, a spokesperson for Bush's campaign instead framed it as a "charming moment," telling BuzzFeed News, "It was clear Governor Bush was cracking a joke with the audience, who laughed and enjoyed the humor." Unfortunately, his public image continued to go south, and he dropped out of the race a couple of weeks later. 

Rick Perry forgets his own plan

It's a tough call, but former Texas governor Rick Perry was probably one of the most entertaining candidates in the 2012 presidential election — largely because of his unbelievable gaffe in 2011. While on air during a presidential debate, Perry seemed ready to roll out his plan for the three agencies he would eliminate as President. Then, he stumbled. Said Perry, "It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone." Ticking them off on his fingers, he continued, "Commerce, education, and the, um, uh, what's the third one there, let's see ..." Opponent Ron Paul jokingly offered, "EPA?" to which Perry and the audience laughed.

Needless to say, the moderator seized the moment, asking, "Seriously ... You can't name the third one?" A wide-eyed Perry responded: "The third agency of government I would do away with — the education, uh ... commerce, let's see — I can't. The third one I can't, sorry. Oops."

He later told reporters, "I'm sure glad I had my boots on because I sure stepped in it out there." Despite being made fun of in the media and a practically obligatory SNL sketch, Perry continued to entertain millions by going on Dancing with the Stars in 2016. President Trump also made him the head of the Department of Energy (the one he couldn't remember in 2011). Perry later admitted he never knew what the Department of Energy actually did until he became Secretary.

Sarah Palin implodes in front of Katie Couric

In 2008, Katie Couric's interview with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin became a thing of legend. Couric asked Palin about a comment she made where she cited Russia's proximity to Alaska as being evidence of her "foreign policy" experience. Sadly, Palin didn't seem very prepared.

"Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country — Russia — and on our other side, the land, uh, boundary that we have with, uh, Canada." Later, she said, "As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of The United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border ... they are right there. They are right next to our state." 

While Russia is 55 miles from Alaska at the narrowest point (over the Bering Strait), reporters criticized Palin's shaky performance. Chuck Todd of NBC News reported at the time that the McCain campaign was criticized for not giving her better media training. "They could've have her already sort of comfortable in these settings, where she wouldn't be stumbling around for an answer about Russia right now," said Todd.

SNL made fun of it relentlessly, casting Tina Fey to play Palin in a classic series of sketches. Years later, Couric maintained that while she intended to ask fair and important questions, she didn't set out to embarrass Palin. "On a human level I felt bad for her because she was clearly struggling," said Couric.

Pat Schroeder openly cries

All eyes were on Colorado Representative Pat Schroeder back in 1987 when she decided to run for president, and her candidacy sparked a lot of interest and support. But when she later announced she was dropping out of the race, she broke down in tears (9:40). 

People might frown upon a moment like that even now — but in the 1980s? Forget about it. Sadly, Schroeder drew massive criticism from men and women alike, and some claimed the moment supported the stereotype that women were too emotional for politics. One female reporter for The Chicago Tribune even quoted another woman as saying, "'The single greatest error in public is to cry. What Schroeder did is a blow to women. You are taught in politics and journalism, wherever you work, that you don't cry in public.” Ouch.

Even years later, Hillary Clinton said that the public still doesn't accept women crying in politics.  "If you get too emotional, that undercuts you. A man can cry — but a woman, that's a different kind of dynamic," she said. Indeed, after decades have passed, Schroeder is still amazed that people still ask her about it. "I want to say, 'Wait a minute, we are talking about 20 years ago,” she told USA Today. "It's like I ruined their lives, 20 years ago, with three seconds of catching my breath." (via NPR).

Christine O'Donnell says she "dabbled into witchcraft"

Christine O'Donnell, a Catholic Tea Party candidate running for the Senate in 2010, stunned everyone by beating the favorite in the primary. Yet, she had some explaining to do when comedian Bill Maher released a video of her appearing on his show back in the 1990s. During the segment, she said: "I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things," she said. "One of my first dates was ... on a satanic altar and I didn't even know it, and — I mean, there was a little blood there and stuff like that." When asked to elaborate, she said, "Yeah, we went to a movie and then had a little midnight picnic on a satanic altar." 

When the media confronted her with the videos years later, O'Donnell stated, "I was in high school. How many of you didn't hang out with questionable folks in high school?" She added for clarity, "There's been no witchcraft since." To further defend her non-witchy character, O'Donnell released a TV ad saying, "I am not a witch. I am nothing you've heard. I am you." When that didn't seem to help, she claimed on Good Morning America (via NBC News) that she never liked the ad anyway. "Our intention was to kill it, and that's not what happened," said O'Donnell. Later, she started to speak out against Donald Trump, and said that she had "no desire to get back into the fray" herself.

Barack Obama claims people are "clinging to guns and religion"

Speaking in 2008 to an upper-class audience at a Democratic fundraiser in San Francisco, then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama was captured on a privately recorded video saying some pretty condescending things about gun owners — which totally undercut his most popular campaign messages as being the candidate who could "reach across the aisle" and "bring people together."  

"People have been beaten down so long, they feel so betrayed by government ... So it's not surprising then that they get bitter and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy towards people who aren't like them as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said. 

The video was eventually released to the public, and the comments angered Midwestern voters. Rival Hillary Clinton jumped on it, saying at the time, "I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Senator Obama made about people in small-town America. His remarks are elitist and out of touch (via The Guardian)." Obama later said, "I didn't say it as well as I should have." He also defended his remarks by saying, "The underlying truth of what I said remains, which is simply that people who have seen their way of life upended because of economic distress are frustrated and rightfully so (via Reuters)."

Romney enrages the middle class with "47 percent" comment

Seems like those private fundraisers are a gold mine for scandalous footage! Four years after the Obama video leak, another video was released of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney making some elitist comments himself, which seemed to alienate half the country.

Explained Romney: "All right, there are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. But that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for [Obama] no matter what ... And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take responsibility and care for their lives."

When asked to defend the video, Romney seemingly took a page out of Obama's 2008 playbook by standing by what he said while admitting it wasn't effective. "It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way," said Romney. He also told a Fox News journalist that his apparent alienation of 50 percent of Americans was simply because in any election, the votes usually divide close to 50/50. "We were of course, talking about a campaign. He's going to get close to half the vote; I'm going to get half the vote, approximately I hope. I want to get 50.1 percent or more."

Gary Johnson asks, "What is Aleppo?"

When Libertarian Gary Johnson ran for president in 2016, he was asked on MSNBC what he would do about Aleppo (the region at the center of Syria's civil war), and he responded with, "And what is Aleppo?" 

"You're kidding," said panelist Mike Barnicle, clearly taken aback.

 "No," said Johnson.

Barnicle quickly explained it for him, saying, "Aleppo is in Syria. It's the epicenter of the refugee crisis ... "

"Ok got it," said Johnson, while his team presumably swung into full damage-control mode behind the scenes. 

Later in a formal statement, Johnson said, "Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict — I talk about them every day. But hit with 'What about Aleppo?', I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked. It happens (via Politico)." 

Obviously Johnson didn't win his bid for president that year. Instead, he ran for Senate later in 2018 as a Democrat — and lost. Still, he is asked about his "Aleppo" moment and his run for the presidency from time to time. He told Esquire in 2018: "I would have really enjoyed being president. I think I would have done a really good job." 

Michael Dukakis rides around in a tank

While running for the presidency in 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis and his team wanted to beef up his image — so his staff decided to have him ride in an army tank on film. Since Dukakis was seen as being weak on national defense compared to opponent George H. Bush, the tank ride was supposed to be a show of authority and strength. Instead turned out to be a hilarious — and almost iconic — campaign disaster.  

As soon as Dukakis put on the required uniform and hat, people at the event were already amused. "Some of them were laughing so hard, they were kind of like, doubled over," a former staff member told Politico. The footage showed Dukakis, who at 5'8" looked completely dwarfed by the massive tank he was in. 

And then, there was the hat. "I remember seeing it and thought how foolish he looked, and what a great TV commercial that would be," the former director of Bush's advertising campaign told Politico. "Here was a guy who was wearing what looked like a Snoopy dog hat, and he wanted to be commander-in-chief of our country." 

The Bush campaign soon turned the footage into a scathing ad that made Dukakis look ridiculous. However, Dukakis denies that the ad was responsible for his losing the election, saying in an ESPN documentary, "It was much more the mistakes that I made early, and the big ones, that I think affected the result (via Boston Globe)."

Marion Barry smokes crack in front of America

When it comes to embarrassing videos, who can forget the mayor of none other than the capital of the United States? In case you missed it (or weren't alive), former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, a known cocaine addict, was once famously caught in a sting operation in 1990, while he was still in office. The tape was pretty damaging, to say the least. 

Footage of the sting was captured when his girlfriend and an undercover FBI agent lured him to a hotel room for a "drug deal." On the video, the mayor could be seen smoking crack. Then at one point, the police busted in the room and Barry exclaimed, "the b***h set me up!" 

After the video was released, Barry was charged with cocaine possession, fined $5,000, and sentenced to six months in prison (via The Washington Post). Despite it all, he was reelected as mayor in 1995, and then later died in 2014 at age 78, after being dubbed Washington's "mayor for life" (via Reuters). 

Senator George Allen calls campaign volunteer "Macaca"

You can't get much more embarrassing than former Senator George Allen's 2006 campaign speech in Virginia, when he made a super offensive comment in front of a Southern crowd. Calling out one of his opponent's volunteers in the audience, Allen said from the stage: "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He's with my opponent ... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." 

The man he was referring to was S.R. Sidarth, who was born and raised in Fairfax County, Virginia and is of Indian ancestry. He was also holding a camera, so the whole thing was captured on video. Said Sidarth: "I was both surprised and offended. I just thought it was sort of despicable to use race in this context in this day and age." It was unclear why Allen called him "macaca," but the word has been known as an old racial slur meaning "monkey" (via The Chicago Tribune).

Allen denied any racial insult and later apologized by saying, "I'm sorry if he was offended. I certainly in no way meant to demean him. I look forward to seeing Sidarth on the trail ahead (via The Chicago Tribune)."

Needless to say, Allen not only lost the Senate seat, but his presidential aspirations for 2008 were said to be destroyed. He then ran for the same Senate seat in 2012, and lost yet again.