debates

Phrases Uttered In Debates That Were Untakebackable

Political debates can be informative, entertaining, and sometimes cringe worthy. Unfortunately for some, they are also quite permanent.

From the first televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960, which proved the importance of makeup and prep, debates have been pivotal moments for candidates to express their ideas to voters.

It’s inevitable that during live, high-pressure, timed events, blunders will happen, or else a simple turn of phrase will land in an unpredictable (not to mention memorable) way among the general populous.

Here’s some famous examples of phrases uttered during debates between presidential hopefuls that will live in infamy — whether as accidental self-destruction, or a winning tool.

1. “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

In a baffling response, then-President Gerald Ford claimed in a 1976 debate that there was no Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe.

Some say Ford was misconstrued, however, as this was during the Cold War, the answer came off as absurdly ignorant. Opponent Jimmy Carter ultimately took the election.

2. “There you go again.”

In a 1980 debate between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s utterance of “There you go again,” in reference to Carter’s misrepresentations, was one that particularly caught the public’s attention as both snide and congenial.

Reagan, of course, won the election, but the punchline stuck with him through press conferences, future debates, and was even co-opted by Sarah Palin against Joe Biden in 2012.

3. “Where’s the beef?”

In a 1984 primary debate, former-VP Walter Mondale, up against rival Gary Hart, said “When I hear your new ideas, senator, I’m reminded of that ad, “Where’s the beef?”

The analogy, though arguably tacky, was meant to demonstrate the lack of substance in Hart’s ideas, and it worked: Mondale won the democratic nomination.

4. “Who am I? Why am I here?”

In 1992, vice presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale elicited confusion and giggles with an introduction that sounded more suitable to an amnesia patient: “Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician,” he said. The answer was never clear, and his reputation suffered for it.

5. “Go to FactCheck.com”

During the 2004 vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney blundered by encouraging viewers to go to FactCheck.com to check the veracity of opposing claims.

Unfortunately, what he meant to say was FactCheck.org, and viewers that went to the wrong website were redirected to a page urging voters not to re-elect his running mate, George W. Bush.

6. “That one”

In 2008, Senator John Mccain referred to opponent Barack Obama as “that one” during an otherwise bland debate. The moment was a weird one dissected heavily by the media, which speculated that the term was contemptuous, disrespectful, or even racist. This alone didn’t cost him the election, but it may have painted him as cranky and out of touch.

7. “They brought us binders full of women.”

In 2012, in attempt to show commitment to workplace diversity, Mitt Romney’s response that, when asking women’s groups for recruits, they “brought us whole binders full of women” took on a life of its own, inspiring memes, a blog, Halloween costumes, and social media fodder aplenty.

The awkward phrasing read as dehumanizing, which wasn’t helpful to his party’s already spotty reputation with female voters.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert