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Standout moments that sealed fate of candidates in recent US polls

us-presidential-election Updated: Sep 13, 2016 08:26 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gets in her car while leaving her daughter's apartment after resting on September 11 in New York. Clinton departed from a ceremony on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks after feeling "overheated," but was later doing "much better". (AFP)

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton came close to a race-changing moment with her illness over the weekend, one that will be remembered years from now.

There are several competitors for the moment Trump lost the race though — the time he jerked his arms around pathetically to mock a physically challenged reporter.

Or if he were to win, how about his news conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, when Americans first saw how Trump will look on stage with a world leader? Even his worst critics in the Republican party were impressed.

Most US presidential elections leave behind moments that make it to book jackets, get traded over beer or are passed on from one generation to another around the fireplace.

On their own, they don’t determine the outcome, which is really the product of multiple factors, but do tend to lock the candidate’s place in history, without mercy.

As this year’s race makes its way into its final stretch with the three presidential debates coming up, here are some stand-out moments from recent elections:

Michael Dukakis in the tank (1988)

Running against vice-president George H W Bush, a celebrated war hero, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democrat, felt under pressure to burnish his own credentials.

Dukakis was in the army too, but having served in peacetime he had nothing to match Bush. Besides, he was seen as weak on defence, a common charge against Democrats.

So, he took a ride in an Abrams main battle tank, as a photo op. Images of a diminutive Dukakis in a goofy helmet had completely the opposite effect and so damaged him that the outing is still cited as a lesson for campaigns in what to not do.

Dukakis lost, giving Bush his first term.

Watch | Dukakis in a tank

Mitt Romney trashed 47% of America (2012)

President Barack Obama’s 2012 challenger, Mitt Romney, was grievously wounded by a surreptitious recording of his remarks to donors in which he ran down almost half the country. Literally.

He could be heard saying 47% of Americans don’t pay taxes, are dependent on the government, believe they are victims and believe the government must care for them. And, he had added, they will vote for Obama no matter what.

With that, Romney, a wealthy businessman already seen disconnected from average Americans, handed the Obama campaign fodder for multiple attack ads making that case.

Romney lost an election many believed was his for the asking.

Watch | Mitt Romney trashing 47% of America

George H W Bush looks at his watch (1992)

Running for a second term, George H W Bush seemed impatient debating his challengers Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and Ross Perot, a businessman who ran as an independent.

As Bush rose from his stool — it was a town-hall style debate — he stole a long look at his wristwatch, and seemed distracted as a member of the audience asked him a question.

Bush didn’t get it, said he had misheard the question, and had to be prompted by the moderator to straighten out his answer. Even that didn’t work, and he asked the questioner to try again.

Bush lost to Clinton, who went on to serve two terms.

Watch | George H W Bush looks at his watch

Ronald Reagan, the zinger-in-chief (1980 and 1984)

Ronald Reagan, the two-term Republican president, was a master of zingers, one-liners that embarrass or neutralise the target, deploying them to devastating effect time and again. They are so many, this should be about moments, not a moment.

Running for his first term in 1980, he blocked incumbent president Jimmy Carter’s attacks during a presidential debate with the now famous, “There you go again…”

And, running for his second term in 1984, he destroyed Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, who was much younger, on the question of age, with a classic: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Reagan, needless to remind readers, won both elections.

Watch | Reagan with the “there you go again” line

Barack Obama in Berlin (2008)

That’s when the world elected a US president for the first time, or at least pretended to, giving in to the inevitable, falling behind a charismatic first term senator from Illinois, Chicago.

Watch | Obama making his speech in Berlin