Nixon broke into sweats. Ford was a klutz. Howard Dean screamed. Marco Rubio was stuck on repeat.
Now Carly Fiorina has fallen down and according to presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, Cruz’ reaction proves he is heartless, self-involved and oh yes, a liar.
In politics, as we know, image is everything. Throughout history, the outcome of presidential campaigns has often turned on (or at least been majorly impacted by) images in the media that reinforce stereotypes of a candidate’s least desirable qualities.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz is having a tough time in Indiana — the state he hoped would save his candidacy. Experts predict he will likely be defeated in Tuesday’s primary.
It started out hopeful enough, with Cruz stumping through the state, naming Carly Fiorina as his running mate and appealing to the sanity of conservative Christians in an effort to drum up GOP support.
But then came the fall.
On Sunday night, Cruz and Fiorina appeared at an event in Indiana. After introducing Cruz and his family, Fiorina lost her footing and fell out of sight. In a widely circulated video, Cruz’ wife, Heidi, appears to reach out to help Fiorina recover from the fall, while Cruz is seen in the background glad-handing supporters.
Trump jumped at the moment, calling it a cruel move on Cruz’ part to let his running mate fall while he kept on talking.
It didn’t take long for the video to make the rounds and public opinions to flow in. There were even rebuttal videos, shot from different angles, which suggested that Cruz was more clueless than cruel. But it may all be too little too late as we know from the past.
Anyone old enough to remember may recall the famous political gaffes that did damage to presidential campaigns.
“In most presidential elections, the fundamentals tend to determine the outcome. These things like the candidates’ images, can have marginal affects one way or the other,” said Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University.
But in this election, even the fundamentals aren’t particularly revealing — there is no incumbent, the outgoing president has a 50 percent approval rating, the economy is growing but not rapidly and none of the candidates are particularly likeable.
In elections like this, how voters perceive candidates’ personal strengths and weaknesses probably matters more, Abramowitz said.
Kennedy and Nixon pioneered televised debates — and ushered in a new era of the political image — but it spelled disaster for Nixon when his profuse sweating appeared to reinforce his already questionable image.
Then came President Ford (who didn’t win friends after pardoning Nixon) and the SNL skits that would forever leave Americans with the impression that Ford was an oaf. It didn’t help that Ford always seemed to be caught on camera slipping, tripping and having all sorts of interesting accidents.
In 2004, Howard Dean saw his presidential dreams dashed with the scream heard ’round the world. During the Iowa primary, the candidate let out an overly enthusiastic scream that has since become a meme.
And in March, candidate Marco Rubio headed back to the senate, in part because he couldn’t shake the impression that he was a political dilettante chirping rehearsed phrases.
Ultimately, the Fiorina fall probably won’t make much of a difference for Cruz, said Abramowitz. “He was probably going to lose anyway,” he said. “His image among republicans has deteriorated. It looks pretty bad for Cruz.”