Top 10 Dumb Mistakes in U.S. Presidential Elections

These are either mistakes that incumbents and challengers made which cost them the election. This list is generally more focused on gaffes and campaigning mistakes rather than policy mistakes.

(Also, this list is for the general elections - not the primaries)
The Top Ten
1 Being complacent (Thomas Dewey)

This was an election Dewey was supposed to have won with overwhelming ease and 100% certainty, but he didn't. Truman, the incumbent, was supposedly unpopular, but he gained support from working-class Americans through vigorous campaigns across the country. Dewey stuck to vague platitudes and couldn't energize voters.

2 Temporarily suspending the campaign (Ross Perot)

Perot had the record of being the most successful Independent candidate in American history with high poll numbers. However, at one point he dropped out of the race due to being blackmailed against. When he came back in the race, he lost most of his momentum. His decision to drop out and re-enter made him look indecisive.

He never, ever had a prayer of being anything more than a spoiler.

3 The Alien & Sedition Acts (John Adams)

Although he very rarely (if at all) enforced this policy, he passed a law during his presidency stating that the government could arrest war protestors. This was due to his insecurities and lack of tolerance toward criticism. It allowed Jefferson to portray Adams as a tyrant. Adams was the only of the first 5 presidents to have one term.

Funny thing. Lincoln did the same thing a thousand times over (and much more and much worse), and everyone thinks he's a saint.

4 Choosing Sarah Palin for Vice-President (John McCain)

At a disadvantage, McCain took a creative risk in appointing a woman who was youthful, energetic and diversified the ticket. However, her very conservative views, countless gaffes, and anti-intellectualism turned Independent voters away.

"Anti-intellectualism? " Come off it. It was anti-establishmentism. As to all her "gaffes," those were largely a creation of leftist media distortion.

5 Not reaching out to the center (Barry Goldwater)

Goldwater had his firm conservative/libertarian principles and wouldn't make an effort to relate to anyone. Coupled with a bitter and miserly personality, his comments about using nuclear weapons in Vietnam allowed him to be portrayed as unstable. He didn't even try to reach out to more moderate members of his party, or the public at large.

6 The split with Theodore Roosevelt (William Taft)

You've turned history on its head, and seem to think that progressivism was Americanist, or that it even had widespread popular support. Roosevelt was a socialist nationalist, and was effectively expelled by the Republican Party. His massive ego made him prey for the collectivist Bull Moose Party, with whom the arrogant TR thought he could win. He was no more than a spoiler who helped get a racist statist into the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt felt that Taft had rolled back many of his progressive policies. While this is not exactly true, Taft lacked the diplomacy and rhetoric to work a compromise with Roosevelt or to convince Progressive voters to come to his side instead of splitting the ticket.

7 Not talking to the voters' interests (Jimmy Carter)

Carter spent much of his time talking about environmentalism, humanitarianism, gender equality and anti-nuclear proliferation. But these were not on the minds of millions of frustrated working class voters. Carter's opponent, Reagan, talked about jobs, strength and productivity every opportunity he could.

8 Avoiding Bill Clinton's endorsement (Al Gore)

Al Gore didn't want Bill Clinton to heavily campaign with him because he feared the sex scandal would hurt him. However, Clinton was still a very popular president in a booming economy. In a very tight election, this could have made a big difference.

9 Having many corruption scandals (Hilary Clinton)
10 Bad televised debate performance (Richard Nixon)

The first televised presidential debate was historic. Kennedy appeared healthy and confident. Nixon appeared irritated and lethargic. Though radio listeners liked Nixon's performance, television viewers vastly prefer Kennedy. There were other debates, but most people tune out after the first one.

The Contenders
11 Lacking "the vision thing" (George H.W. Bush)

1992 was uniquely a year of economic stress and record crime. While Bill Clinton offered a gentle charisma and showed adept in relating with struggling people, H.W. Bush allowed himself all too easily to be portrayed as rich and aloof. H.W. Bush never cared for the grandiosity of political rhetoric, but voters did. Clinton won because he seemed hungrier for it.

12 Being pro-Vietnam (Hubert Humphrey)

Robert Kennedy was doing well as an anti-war candidate before the assassination. Humphrey's moderate support for the Vietnam alienated many Democrats. He was unable to contrast himself from his opponent (Nixon) or the unpopular incumbent (Johnson).

13 Saying questionable things (Donald Trump)
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