By Andrew O'Reilly
Published December 25, 2018
The political gaffe has a long and storied history in American politics -- and between the testy midterm elections, the early jockeying for 2020 and the sitting president's penchant for saying whatever is on his mind, 2018 was especially gaffe-tastic.
Politicians of all stripes had their “oops” moments this year that they probably wish they could take back.
See below for a rundown of the seven biggest political gaffes of 2018:
Warren makes it worse
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., thought she was going to finally clear the air about her Native-American heritage -- and answer allegations of exaggerating it to get ahead -- when she released her DNA test results.
It didn't work out that way.
The test, performed by Stanford University professor Carlos Bustamante, found that the “vast majority” of Warren’s ancestry is European, though the results “strongly” suggested Native American heritage six to 10 generations back.
While Warren touted the results for showing a small trace of Native-American heritage, those same results only emboldened Warren’s critics -- for just how infinitesimal that lineage was.
“To put that in perspective, Warren might even be less Native American than the average European American,” Republican National Committee Deputy Communications Director Mike Reed said at the time, while saying this would “not give you the right to claim minority status.”
Warren's effort to clear away the issue ahead of a widely expected 2020 presidential run appeared to backfire on all fronts -- to be sure, President Trump is unlikely to shelve his derisive nickname "Pocahontas" anytime soon.
But on the left, her handling of the test stirred reported concerns about the use of racial science.
And the rollout angered some tribes, with the Cherokee Nation criticizing Warren publicly.
“A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., said. “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong.”
‘Truth isn’t truth’
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and current Trump attorney, unintentionally coined a phrase when he declared “Truth isn’t truth” during an August appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Giuliani was responding to moderator Chuck Todd's statement that “truth is truth” during an interview about whether a Trump sit-down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be a “perjury trap.”
Giuliani later tried to clarify that he meant an interview would be fruitless since Mueller and Trump were in disagreement over fundamental aspects of the inquiry -- but the damage was done and late-night talk show hosts had a field day. It may be cold comfort for Giuliani, but the statement did top a Yale Law School librarian’s list for the most notable quotes of 2018.
Booker’s 'Spartacus' moment
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., another senator thought to be eyeing a possible 2020 presidential bid, drew mockery for comments during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh later ran into serious problems of his own after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced -- but during the original hearing, Booker took some hits for a cringe-worthy comparison of himself to the famed Roman-era slave revolt leader Spartacus.
“This is about the closest I’ll probably ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” Booker said – in reference to the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas as the title character – as he prepared to tell those assembled he was going to put his place in the U.S. Senate at risk by breaking the rules and releasing confidential documents that allegedly would expose Kavanaugh as a supporter of racial profiling.
A long and bizarre debate ensued over whether the New Jersey lawmaker actually did break the rules -- but regardless, Booker did not end up losing his Senate seat over it.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., was in the midst of an already-tough re-election campaign when he made a high-profile debate gaffe.
“Our state director is Indian American, but he does an amazing job,” Donnelly said during the debate against Republican challenger Mike Braun. “Our director of all constituent services -- she’s African American, but she does an even more incredible job than you could ever imagine.”
Donnelly was immediately called out by Republicans for using the word “but” in describing the minority staffer’s talents.
“Holy cats. Watch this clip. I can’t believe how terrible this is,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican operative and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In a statement to Fox News, Donnelly said he used the wrong conjunction.
"I misspoke, I meant to say ‘and’ instead of ‘but,’” Donnelly said. “That would have communicated what I have tried to do my entire life: that I make a habit to seek out and promote people of color for both my campaign and official staff.”
While that gaffe likely was not a decisive factor, Donnelly ended up losing his Senate seat to Braun in November.
While on the campaign trail in her run-off race against Democrat Mike Espy, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., had a poor choice of words while stumping in her home state.
Hyde-Smith was caught on camera during a campaign stop saying that if she were invited by one of her supporters to a "public hanging," she would be in "the front row.” The Mississippi lawmaker has since said that the comment was made in jest and denied any racial connotation.
Her denial, however, did little to quiet the outrage in a state known for its history of lynchings and other racially motivated attacks on African-Americans, and the comment became a major talking point in the lead-up to the state’s special election.
While the remark was credited with fueling high Democratic turnout in the runoff, it did not ruin her campaign -- as Hyde-Smith squeaked out a win against Espy.
Ocasio-Cortez’s accounting error
Incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., hasn’t even served her first day in the House and already has been scrutinized for a wide range of statements.
The 29-year-old Democratic Socialist, who has become a frequent political punching bag for the right and a hero for progressives, flubbed when she suggested a reported $21 trillion in Pentagon accounting errors could fund most of her proposed "Medicare for all" health care program.
Ocasio-Cortez cited a story from The Nation about how $21 trillion in "Pentagon financial transactions" between 1998 and 2015 could not be documented or explained.
But multiple fact-checkers gave a clear verdict to Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that Pentagon accounting errors could largely cover the costs: it wasn’t true.
As Vox explained: “The Pentagon’s accounting errors are genuinely enormous, but they’re also just accounting errors -- they don’t represent actual money that can be spent on something else.”
Underscoring the disconnect between the original story and Ocasio-Cortez's Twitter claim, Vox continued: "Indeed, there simply hasn’t been $21 trillion in (nominal) Defense Department spending across the entirety of American history."
Quit smocking him: Trump’s Twitter misspellings
President Trump’s prolific tweeting has been a hallmark of his time in the Oval Office -- and his tweetstorms have also gifted the public with memorable misspellings. While 2017’s “covfefe” tweet is arguably the best thumb-slip of the bunch, 2018 had its share of spelling blunders.
There was the time back in May when Trump welcomed first lady Melania back home to the White House, but fell victim to a cruel autocorrect mistake that apparently changed “Melania” to “Melanie.” But autocorrect can’t be blamed for all the misspellings.
He has referred to the United States Marine Corps as the “Marine Core,” written about how reporters “pour” over his tweets, misspelled former President Barack Obama’s name, and said there was no “smocking gun” in former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on the Russia investigation.
Earlier this month, Trump tweeted about Democrats condemning his planned wall along the U.S. border with Mexico -- mocking them for thinking "boarder security" can be achieved without it.