GOP’s Most Awkward Debate Moments: Crying, Flip-Flops, More (Video)

From Romney’s flip-flops to Perry’s ‘oops,’ relive the most painful highlights of the presidential debates.


It’s hard to imagine that we will one day live in a world without Republican presidential debates, but that day is almost here. After nearly nine months of journalist-moderated bickering, name calling, and mudslinging, one of the most watched reality-TV shows will go on hiatus. The candidates have, one at a time, pulled out of future scheduled debates, making Wednesday night’s event the season finale. In honor of this last hurrah, The Daily Beast has combed through clips of past debates. From Romney’s flip-flops to Rick Perry’s “oops,” see the most awkward moments from the many GOP presidential debates.

Gingrich Snaps at John King After Infidelity QuestionsCNN wastes no time. At the South Carolina debate, the speaker’s baggage was first on the agenda when John King challenged Newt Gingrich to address his ex-wife’s allegations that he asked for an open marriage.

More Than a Microphone Mishap?Ron Paul is questioned about alleging that Rick Santorum is corrupt. As he starts to call out Santorum for accepting money from lobbyists, Paul’s microphone backfires. “They caught you not telling the truth, Ron,” quips Santorum to resounding laughter from the audience. Santorum dismisses the accusations of corruption by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington insisting, “If you haven’t been sued by CREW, you’re not a conservative.”

Nothing Says “Man of the People” Like a $10,000 BetRick Perry challenges Romney’s alleged opposition to a health-care mandate by pointing out that he expressed his support for the same thing in the first edition of his book. Romney’s so confident that Perry is wrong about his views, he’s willing to put $10,000 on it. Too bad Perry’s not in the bettin’ business.

Did Mitt Romney Flip-Flop on His Name?Responding to Wolf Blitzer’s introduction, in which he said, “I’m Wolf Blitzer—and yes, that’s my real name,” Mitt Romney quipped, “I’m Mitt Romney—and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.” Interestingly, Romney’s first name is actually Willard.

Six Republican presidential candidates sat around a mock Thanksgiving table to discuss God and social issues at an Internet-only debate held by Citizen Link (formerly Focus on the Family Action) and moderated by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. They began by discussing the influence of religion and God on their political careers and which values they’d like to reinstate in America. Thanks to the unusual format, it was more of a polite discussion, and candidates took the opportunity to tell sprawling stories of their Christian faith and personal hardships. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. declined to participate in the debate.

Herman Cain Gets Teary-EyedWho would have guessed that Herman Cain would cry at a debate? When Luntz invited the candidates to share a religious experience from their childhood or adulthood that forever changed them, Cain was the first to step forward. Recalling the moment when his doctor informed him that he had stage-IV colon cancer, Cain was suddenly choked up and had to take a deep breath before finishing his story. But what really opened the floodgates was the memory of telling his wife, “I can do this, I can beat this,” only to have her say, “We can do this.”

Rick Santorum Cries, TooHere’s a red flag: Rick Santorum confessed that he had once viewed his disabled daughter, who was diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder at birth, “as less of a person” until she was fighting for her life at 5 months old. These aren’t just tears of pain, but tears of shame. Remembering holding onto her finger and “praying to the Lord to commit to her,” he tells the audience that, three years later, she’s “hanging in there.” Pulling himself together, Santorum then segues into health care, siding with Michele Bachmann on the need to repeal Obamacare and build a better health-care system from scratch.

Perry’s ‘Oops’ Heard Round the WorldRick Perry’s presidential candidacy has been a slowly sinking ship, but after tonight, consider it sunk. Perry would do away with three federal agencies when elected president, he says, but he can’t remember the third one. Think think think. He flounders for an agonizing 30 seconds or so, until even Ron Paul tries to throw him a bone. If Perry had any debate skills whatsoever, he would’ve taken it, even though it wasn’t what he was wracking his brain for. Instead, he settles with “oops” after failing to find the answer in his cue cards.

Mitt Romney: I’m No Flip-FlopperWith the spotlight on Mitt Romney, the debate moderators decided to see whether highlighting his occasional flip-flopping on policies like the bailout would make him sweat. He stayed calm at first, saying that he always viewed the bailout as “the wrong way to go,” whether it was President Bush’s idea or President Obama’s. “My plan would have had a private-sector bailout,” he said, explaining that he wouldn’t have allowed the government to have such a heavy-handed role. When the moderators pressed again, Romney ran out of political examples when he hadn’t flip-flopped and turned to his personal life. “I’m a man of steadiness and constancy,” he said, citing his commitment to his church, his wife, and his company, though he had a momentary brain hiccup when he tried to point out the number of years he’s been devoted to his wife: “I’ve been married to the same woman for 25—excuse me, I’ll get myself in trouble—42 years.” Smooth, Romney, very smooth.

Running-Mate Question Allows Candidates to Flatter Each OtherIf ever there was an “Are we in high school?” moment in tonight’s debate it was when the candidates were asked to pick hypothetical running mates from the motley crew sharing the stage with them. Not only did this scene bring back memories of picking teams in gym class, it really allowed the candidates to bring out their inner ass kisser. Rick Perry announced that he would create his ideal VP by “mating up” Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich (an image Mitt Romney would like to get out of his head). Romney on the other hand really took the easy way out by saying any one of the candidates would make a great president.

The Tea Party Game Show?Call it “GOP Idol.” The introductions at the CNN Tea Party debate seemed more fitting for a dramatic reality-TV show than a serious political event. Wolf Blitzer shouted out each candidate’s name and job description as they walked out onstage individually, to thunderous applause.

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Santorum’s ‘Illegal’ GaffeOne viewer asked what the candidates planned to do to attract Latino voters. In an attempt to zing Perry, Santorum confused the term “illegal” with “Latino,” replying: “What Gov. Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract illegal voters—I mean Latino voters.”

Seven Kids, Churchill’s Bust, and a HarleyBecause moderator Wolf Blitzer was determined to get to the issue on everyone’s minds, the final question of the night concerned what the candidates plan to bring to the White House. Santorum said he would add a bedroom and beds because he and his wife have seven children. Gingrich said he would create more space in the White House “by kicking out all of the White House czars the first day.” Paul said he’d bring a “bushel basket full of common sense.” Perry promised to bring “the most beautiful, the most thoughtful and incredible first lady that this country’s ever seen.” Romney promised to restore the bust of Winston Churchill that used to sit in the Oval Office. Bachmann said she would bring the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Herman Cain vowed to bring a sense of humor to the White House, “because America’s too uptight.” Last of all, Huntsman promised to bring his Harley Davidson and his motocross bike.

Awkward: Michele Bachmann Goes AWOLNot the most substantive moment of the night but one that people will be talking about: as the second half began, all the candidates were on stage but Bachmann, leaving the hosts to improvise for a few moments till she reappeared.

How Bachmann Really Feels About Cain’s Tax PlanMichele Bachmann is just going to say it: does anyone else think it’s weird that Herman Cain’s tax mantra is 6-6-6 when flipped upside down? Anyone?

Tim Pawlenty Misses His Big BreakThis is considered the end of Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. Watch how he completely falters when given the chance to hit Mitt Romney hard on his Massachusetts health-care plan.

Bachmann Asked if She Would Be “Submissive” Wife as PresidentIf the crowd was feeling torn about the toughness of the moderators’ questions, this ended all doubt. Byron York had barely finished asking Bachmann if she’d apply the biblical injunction to be submissive to her husband when the boos came down hard and unrelenting. Bachmann’s response was easily the most loudly cheered of the night. “Submission,” she said, means “respect.”

Cain ‘Uncomfortable’ with Muslim in AdministrationCommunists, Nazis—and Muslims, oh my? When CNN’s John King asked Herman Cain to clarify his comments over whether or not he’d hire a Muslim in his administration, the pizza magnate said he “would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us.” Romney and Newt Gingrich also chimed in, with Gingrich further stirring the pot: “We did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists … We have got to have the guts to stand up and say no,” he said.