Election Day is finally here and after a year and a half of non-stop campaigning it can’t come fast enough. But before today’s race becomes yesterday’s news and we move on to the transition or the fiscal cliff or (God forbid) the recount, we at TPM wanted to take one last look back at just how far we’ve come.
From a wild primary that saw everyone from Donald Trump to Herman Cain briefly hold onto frontrunner status to a general election that taught America the importance of drinking coffee before debates, there’s plenty of memorable moments to look back over. So, submitted for your approval, here’s a collection of some of the best — and worst — events to emerge from the dust of tweets and trivia.
Best Ad (Primaries): “Rombo”
Badly outgunned on the airwaves, Rick Santorum produced this fun spot that tried to turn Romney’s attack ad “Death Star” against him.
Worst Ad (Primaries): “Strong”
Collapsing in the polls, Rick Perry bet the farm on Iowa Republicans’ hatred of gay people outweighing their desire for a nominee who could string two sentences together. He was wrong and the result is one of the most reviled videos on all of YouTube, with a staggering 778,000+ “dislikes” and counting.
Best Ad (General): “Firms”
Almost every ad from this election will be quickly forgotten — except this Romney-bashing spot by the Obama campaign that’s as perfectly executed as it is shamelessly populist.
Worst Ad (General): “Freedom To Succeed”
Just because you have a billion dollars and don’t like Obama doesn’t mean you have the slightest idea what to do with your money. Hungarian born investor Thomas Peterffy spent millions on this national ad telling people to stop being mean to the rich or the United States will turn into 1950s Eastern Europe.
Most Brazen Spin: ‘Blah People’
When Rick Santorum got caught on camera saying “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money” back in January, he found a novel way to defend himself against the outrage the remark brought. He claimed to be “tongue-tied” and therefore what he was actually saying was “blah” people.
Most Awkward Spin: That Joe Soptic Ad
Priorities USA’s radioactive ad (that barely aired on TV) featuring the story of Joe Soptic — whose wife died of cancer in the years after he was laid off from a Bain-owned steel mill — understandably blew up the news cycle for a couple of days. That led to some of the failingest spin of the 2012 cycle.
The Obama campaign first refused to condemn the ad, which conservatives said pretty clearly suggested Romney was indirectly responsible for the death of Soptic’s wife. Then they claimed to not know anything about Soptic’s story, despite the fact he had recounted it on an Obama conference call. Confronted with the spot, Priorities simply denied it showed what most people who watched it said it showed. All while Romney touted the ad as evidence that Bain attacks had jumped the shark.
Most Epic Flip Flop: Newt’s Libya Word Puzzle
Newt Gingrich thought it was safe to dump on Obama for not getting involved in Libya’s civil war. But then Obama screwed it all up by doing what Gingrich recommended, sending Gingrich scrambling to reverse all his positions on deploying the Air Force, ousting Gaddaffi, and even the basic concept of whether humanitarian interventions are ever justified. The sheer scale of cynicism puts this flop into its own tier.
Worst Self-Inflicted Wound: Michelle Bachmann’s Vaccine Scare
Live by the crazy conspiracy theory, die by the crazy conspiracy theory. Michele Bachmann was actually a top tier presidential candidate for a moment until she suggested that the HPV vaccine Gardasil causes mental retardation. Thus began her long fall into irrelevance. Now even her own party leadership feels free to dump on her kookier claims without fear of tea party reprisal.
Runner Up: Rick Perry Has A Heart
Well before “oops” made him a national punch line, Perry’s debate suggestion that anti-immigration hardliners don’t “have a heart” kicked off his rapid collapse from frontrunner to also-ran.
Most Surreal General Election Moment: The Empty Chair
“Wooo, Clint Eastwood! Hmm, he sounds a little creaky. Wait is he talking to a chair? Is this happening? How long can he keep speaking?”
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Most Surreal Primary Moment: Herman Cain
Facing a wave of sexual harassment accusations, Cain offered up an impromptu gospel performance at the National Press Club.
Runner Up: Herman Cain
Facing a wave of sexual harassment accusations, Herman Cain quoted a song from the Pokemon movie at length in his speech suspending his campaigning.
Second Runner Up: Herman Cain
Having left the race after a wave of sexual harassment accusations, Herman Cain started producing Nine Inch Nails videos disguised as issue ads.
Best Debate Performance (Primary): How Dare You, Sir!
Newt Gingrich ripped “despicable” debate moderator John King in South Carolina for bringing up his ex-wife’s claim that he asked for an open marriage. He read the base’s hatred of the press perfectly — they rallied to his side and the moment became the talk of the trail.
Worst Debate Performance (Primary): Rick Perry
Best Debate Performance (General): Romney, obviously.
Worst Debate Performance (General): Obama, obviously.
Most Annoying Pander: Obama’s Bracketology
Oh hey, what a coincidence, three of Obama’s Final Four picks were in swing states.
Most Epic Pander: Newt Gingrich’s Moon Base
Newt Gingrich traveled to Florida’s NASA-heavy space coast in a tight race and literally promised them the moon. Or at least a base on it for “science, tourism, and manufacturing.” He said they could talk about statehood for it later.
Most Desperate Pander: Women For Cain
Days before dropping out, Cain launched a “Women For Cain” website. Highlights included a German stock photo up top and an array of vicious testimonials from female supporters against Cain’s “pathetic husbandless” accusers.
Most Underappreciated Meltdown: Thad McCotter
Admit it, you didn’t even remember Thad McCotter ran for president until you read this. But no candidate did more damage to his or her career by joining the GOP fray — and that is a very competitive feat. Not only did he drop out before a single vote was cast, but the distraction kept his office back home from gathering enough signatures to get him on the ballot in his Congressional district. The staffers who put the petitions together were charged with fraud for allegedly making up signatures to close the gap. McCotter decided not to run for another term, but the greatest indignity came later when his disgruntled staff leaked a copy of a raunchy sitcom pilot written by McCotter. The catch phrase for the wacky, sex-crazed character: “I’m Thai!” He resigned shortly after the story ran, citing his “nightmarish” month.
Most Successful Troll: Harry Reid
Harry Reid bullied Mitt Romney like a high school pro over his tax rates, telling anyone who would listen that Romney paid zero taxes for years (with zero evidence to back up his claims). Romney was so frustrated by the accusation he’d underpaid his taxes that when he finally released his most recent returns he deliberately didn’t claim over $1.75 million in charitable deductions just to keep them above an arbitrary tax rate he set in an interview responding to Reid. That put the price tag on Reid’s trolling at over $250,000.
Best Campaign Song: “I Am America”
Try to get it out of your head. You can’t.
Worst Campaign Song: “Only in America”
Basically nothing in the lyrics happens exclusively in America, from red, white and blue flags to children using school buses to legalized dancing (“everybody gets to dance!”). In a rare case of bipartisanship, both Romney and Obama used the song constantly, which just meant you had to hear it twice as much.
Most Telltale GOP Debate Moment: Death To The Uninsured!
The primary debates were generally a red meat fest that saw the candidates appearing in front of the most extreme wing of the GOP base. Case in point: At a September 2011 debate, the candidates stood by silently as a group in the audience cheered on the idea of letting an uninsured man die rather than have the state pay his medical bills:
The presidential candidates were forced to apologize for the behavior of debate audiences more than once, leaving Democrats room to cast the whole party as out of touch at best and just plain mean at worst.
Most Awkward Handling Of Radioactive Supporter: Mitt Romney And Richard Mourdock
A lot of Republicans dropped Richard Mourdock after he upended the Indiana Senate race with his comments about rape, conception and God’s will. Most national Republicans did not, following the precedent set by Romney, who reupped his endorsement and kept his ad for Mourdock on the air.
Runner-Up: Bill Maher And Team Obama
Republicans tried to deflect attention from Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” remark by noting that comedian Bill Maher — who donated $1 million to Obama’s super PAC’s Priorities USA — had once called Sara Palin “a c**t.” Team Obama stuck with Maher, until it didn’t. Priorities called his words “vulgar and inappropriate” (it kept the money however) and Obama adviser David Axelrod dropped plans to go on Maher’s show.
Best Walkback: Don’t Quote Me On That
Newt Gingrich almost fell out of the presidential race after he called the Ryan budget “right-wing social engineering.” After he apologized he said it wouldn’t be right for Democrats to use the line in campaign materials. They didn’t listen.
Best Billionaire: Foster Friess
Most of the billionaires who flooded the campaign with cash preferred to keep their names out of the press. Then there’s Foster Friess, who steered the entire news cycle off kilter by joking that women in his day could use aspirin for birth control. “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he said in February.
Best Joe Biden: Joe Biden
Trumpiest Trump: Donald Trump After The Birth Certificate Release
Trump on April 27, 2011, after Obama released his longform birth certificate: “I’m very proud of myself because I’ve accomplished something that nobody else has been able to accomplish. I’m really honored.”
Grumpiest Trump: Donald Trump After The White House Correspondents Dinner
Trump on May 1, 2011, on the jokes lobbed his way by Obama and White House Correspondents Association Dinner host Seth Meyers: “Some were fun, but not the greatest.”