10 Politicians Who Turned on the Tears in Public From Obama to Muskie

Sometimes weeping reveals the human side of a politician, and sometimes it derails a candidacy.

AP Photo (2); Getty Images

Barack Obama

At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton noted that Barack Obama was “cool on the outside, but burning for America on the inside.” And every once in awhile, that fire is dampened by tears. In 2008, on the day before the presidential election, Obama cried at a campaign stop while discussing his grandmother, who had just died. Four years later, once again on the final day of campaigning, the president got a little weepy again—from the exact same eye as 2008. And on Wednesday, while thanking his staff in Chicago after his election victory, the commander in chief got very emotional. “What you guys have done means the work that I’m doing is important,” the president said, wiping away tears. “And I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of all of you.”

John Boehner

Arguably no politician sheds more tears than Rep. John Boehner. Over the years, the “Weeper of the House” has cried for our troops in Iraq, at the unveiling of a Ronald Reagan statue, and most famously on 60 Minutes. When asked about Boehner’s waterworks, his predecessor as speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told The New York Times, “He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics—no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.”

Mitch McConnell

Shortly after John Boehner cried on 60 Minutes, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel got choked up on the floor of the Senate while saying goodbye to New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who was retiring. “Now to say that I tried to convince Judd to stay is an understatement,” McConnell said, wielding a handkerchief. “But he knew it was his time to move on, and to write the next chapter in his life. And while senators come and go all the time, I can’t help but note that when Judd walks out of this chamber, when he walks out of this chamber for the last time, he’ll leave an enormous void behind.”

Hillary Clinton

While making a campaign appearance in New Hampshire in 2008, Hillary Clinton was asked how she gets out the door every day to run for president. After delivering a joke or two, then-Senator Clinton got very emotional. “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation,” she said, as her eyes filled with tears. “I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to reverse it.” Many pundits believe Clinton’s weeping helped her win that primary and Maureen Dowd asked in a column, “Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?”

Rick Santorum

What makes former senator Rick Santorum cry? His children. After being asked by Sean Hannity about why he brought his dead baby boy home so his family could grieve together, Santorum fought back tears as he explained, “We showed him to our children. We wanted to let them know that they had a brother.” A few months earlier, while campaigning in Iowa, Santorum got emotional while discussing his daughter, Bella, who was born with a Down Syndrome–like illness. “One of the reasons I’m here tonight,” Santorum said, as he got misty, “It’s a world with socialized medicine where children like Bella … do not get the care that they need.”

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich may talk a tough game, but in December the former speaker of the House got weepy when asked about his mother. “You’ll get me all teary-eyed,” Gingrich said, recalling his late mother who died in 2003. “I identify my mother with being happy, as loving life.” And as he tried to gain his composure Gingrich told the crowd, “I do policy much easier than I do personal.”

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Bill Clinton

Hillary Clinton may have gotten teary during the 2008 campaign in New Hampshire, but when it was all over and she won the Democratic primary, it was her husband who let the waterworks flow. “I’m so proud of her,” the 42nd president said to the people of New Hampshire, wiping away a tear. “And I’m so proud of them.”

George H.W. Bush

Nearly 25 years after Newsweek made fun of George W. Bush’s “wimp factor,” his granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager interviewed the 41st president about his 88th birthday. “I tried as hard as I could not to cry,” she said on the Today show, “but we are the family criers.” After discussing his political legacy, Bush talked about his family—and got weepy. “There’s so much excitement ahead,” the former president said, tearing up. “So many grandkids to watch grow, devotedly, Dad.”

Chris Christie

After witnessing the devastation of superstorm Sandy, Chris Christie put on a brave face. But when he got to meet his idol, Bruce Springsteen, at a relief effort, the New Jersey governor broke down. “Bruce and I had an opportunity to chat for a while Friday night,” he said at a press conference this month. “We hugged and he told me, ‘It’s official, we’re friends.’” Christie continued, “I told the president today, actually, that the hug was great and when we got home, there was a lot of weeping because of the hug. And the president asked why. I said, ‘Well, to be honest, I was the one doing the weeping.’”

Edmund Muskie

Was he crying or was it just a reaction to the cold? Either way, when Washington Post reporter David Broder wrote about Ed Muskie, the Democratic front-runner in 1972, crying at a campaign stop, his campaign was effectively over. “With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion, Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-ME) stood in the snow outside the Manchester Union Leader this morning and accused its publisher of making vicious attacks on him and his wife, Jane,” Broder wrote of Muskie, who “broke down three times in as many minutes.” And with that, his candidacy was all wet.