DeSantis campaign launch conjures blunders and disasters from past candidates

Ron DeSantis isn’t the first presidential candidate to encounter turbulence. Remember the ‘Dean Scream’ and Michael Dukakis atop a battle tank?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) listens to other speakers before signing education bills at Cambridge Christian school in Tampa on May 17. (Thomas Simonetti/For The Washington Post)
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced his candidacy for president Wednesday in a glitch-plagued Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk that involved 20 minutes of mostly silence. The false start encouraged hundreds of thousands of listeners to tune out — and generated derision from the campaigns of President Biden and former president Donald Trump.

DeSantis is hardly the first candidate for whom a campaign event went awry. History is full of presidential contender blunders, bloopers and gaffes. Candidates have been tripped up by their personal infidelities and bad judgment on campaign optics. Some moments have dashed candidates’ hopes of winning: Supposed tears shed by Sen. Edmund Muskie in New Hampshire in 1972 helped doom his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Others have turned out to be mere blips.

“I don’t know that DeSantis’s technical issues on Twitter rise to the level” of some of the more infamous moments in U.S. history, said Bob Riel, a historian of presidential campaigns. “I guess we’ll find out more about how it’s affecting him as this plays out over the next few days.”

Howard Dean and the ‘Dean Scream’ — 2004

In 2004, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean had finished third in the Iowa caucuses during his party’s primaries. In a speech to his supporters after the results, he vowed to fight back, saying he would be going to New Hampshire, South Carolina, “and Oklahoma, and Arizona, and North Dakota and New Mexico!”

After enumerating additional states, the former Vermont governor gave out an enthusiastic “yeeeeaaah!”

That sound would go down in history as the “Dean Scream” and his remarks as the “I have a scream” speech. Historians have cited that yell as having crashed his campaign. It was featured on the History Channel’s “How to Lose the Presidency.”

More than a decade later, Dean reenacted his gaffe while giving a speech on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Watch: Compare Howard Dean's impression of himself to 2004 'scream' (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Michael Dukakis and the tank photo — 1988

The former Massachusetts governor, a Democrat, featured in one of the most-mocked campaign photo ops in U.S. politics while running for president in 1988 against his GOP rival, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Dukakis had enjoyed a lead over the summer, but the Bush campaign was taking aim at his national security chops.

When Dukakis gave a speech at a tank manufacturing plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., in September 1988, “somebody had the not great idea of putting my dad in a tank,” John Dukakis, the candidate’s son, said in a 2016 PBS documentary. “With a helmet, of course, because you can’t ride a tank without a helmet.”

DeSantis fighter jet ad conjures 1988 Dukakis tank debacle

Footage of the smiling politician, with his name on the helmet, drew laughter from reporters, and the Bush team seized on it in a campaign ad. Despite the hit to his public image, Dukakis refused to “get in the sandbox,” as he put it, and fight back — a move he later said he regretted, The Washington Post reported. His campaign went into free fall before he lost to Bush.

Jimmy Carter and Playboy magazine — 1976

On the eve of the 1976 presidential election, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter told Playboy magazine that he had “looked on a lot of women with lust,” making this disclosure as he was talking about his religious beliefs. In an attempt to explain Christianity’s teachings on humility, the future president said that despite his wishes not to commit “a deliberate sin,” he did so anyhow because he was human.

“Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’ I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times,” the soon-to-be 39th president said.

The Post reported at the time that the “press had a field day with Carter’s oddball offerings,” and the interview nearly cost him the election.

Rick Perry and the Energy Department — 2011

Former Texas governor Rick Perry vowed to eliminate three federal agencies, should he be elected president. “I will tell ya, it’s three agencies the government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, education, and the uh … what’s the third one there, let’s see,” he said during a 2011 televised presidential primary debate. Perry, his competitors and attendees laughed.

In the following moments, Perry (R) failed to remember which department he had planned to disband. “The third one, I can’t, I can’t. I’m sorry,” he said. Many memes and much mocking followed his performance. He went on to lose the GOP nomination to Mitt Romney.

During the Trump administration, Perry was nominated to lead that third agency, the Energy Department, and during his confirmation hearing, Perry said he regretted “recommending its elimination.”

Gary Hart and ‘Monkey Business’ — 1988

The former senator from Colorado was a front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. That was until allegations of an affair with Donna Rice, a pharmaceutical rep and aspiring model, pushed the married candidate to withdraw.

Acting on an anonymous tip, reporters from the Miami Herald had tracked a young woman to Hart’s Washington townhouse, where they spotted her entering but said they did not see her leave that night.

Politicians’ sex lives used to be off-limits. One scandal changed everything.

The story (“Miami Woman Is Linked to Hart”) set off a media frenzy that engulfed Hart’s presidential bid. It came just weeks after he had announced his candidacy — when he was faced with questions over alleged “womanizing.” “Follow me around … I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead,” he was quoted as saying at the time. “They’d be very bored.”

Instead, the revelation that Hart and Rice had earlier taken an overnight cruise to Bimini in the Bahamas on a yacht named “Monkey Business” sank his campaign. Hart dropped out of the race soon after the Herald’s story was published and after The Post told his campaign that it was investigating another potential liaison. The scandal later became the focus of a movie, “The Front Runner,” starring Hugh Jackman.

Lincoln Chafee and the metric system — 1995

Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee launched his Democratic campaign for president in 2016 with a speech that became memorable for just one thing. Speaking at a half-empty auditorium at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Chafee talked about infrastructure, national security policy and capital punishment.

Then out of nowhere, Chafee endorsed the metric system

“Earlier I said, ‘Let’s be bold.’ Here’s a bold embrace of internationalism: Let’s join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada as they completed the process. Believe me, it is easy. It doesn’t take long before 34 degrees is hot.”

The remarks would go on to dominate coverage of his campaign. “Chafee never seemed to get on track after that,” The Post reported that fall, when he ended his bid. Chafee polled at less than 1 percent nationally before withdrawing.

Richard G. Lugar and the Oklahoma City bombing — 1995

In a case of awful timing, the Republican senator from Indiana announced his presidential candidacy on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995. The attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people, including 15 children, stunned the nation and reduced Richard Lugar’s announcement to an afterthought. His campaign never really recovered.

He soon dropped out of the race, telling reporters he had run out momentum and money, and he endorsed the eventual Republican nominee, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas.

Gillian Brockell contributed to this report.