A million things have to break right for a person to ascend to the highest office in the land. In 2004, a republican United States Senate nominee from Illinois, Jack Ryan, made the surprising decision to step aside. The investment banker then favored to win the seat was forced to pull out after a sex scandal indirectly involving his celebrity wife surfaced. With no serious republican challenger, that essentially gave the seat to the democrat nominee, a state senator whose previous flirtation with national politics involved losing a primary for a U.S. House seat four years earlier. That state senator's name is Barack Obama, and you presumably know the rest of the story from there.

A single one-night stand, hot microphone or emotional outburst can reduce even the most robust candidate to a historical footnote. It happens all the time, and the rippling effect on our economy is surprisingly widespread. In a way, Jack Ryan's alleged bad behavior brought us Obamacare and the demise of Osama Bin Laden. When you consider the power the president has to effect change, the personal failures of presidential candidates can heavily impact your life. While many of these presidential hopefuls labor to build their reputations through promoting of fiscal responsibility and sound government, a single, almost completely unrelated PR slipup can undo their hard work - and subsequently - their political aspirations. Here are just a few of the most notable instances:

Thomas Dewey
The sole presidential election that Harry Truman won, that of 1948, is largely regarded as the greatest political upset in American history. Therefore, the man on the losing end, republican Thomas Dewey, must have pulled off the biggest choke job in history. How did that happen?

Even though Truman had served as Vice President under one of the most popular presidents in history (Franklin Roosevelt), assumed the presidency after Roosevelt died in office and authorized the atomic strikes on Japan that ended World War II, Truman remained a huge underdog entering the election. Many voters felt alienated by Truman's pro-union stance, while others (on both sides of the issue) were put off by his ambivalence regarding civil rights. All Dewey had to do was not make any mistakes and the Oval Office was his.

Except Dewey committed the gaffe of doing absolutely nothing. His strategy of playing "not to lose" backfired, a teaching moment coming when he offered the famous tautological quote, "You know that your future is still ahead of you." Today, presidential hopefuls spew such blather all the time. In the 1940s, audiences expected their candidates to say something of substance. Dewey's anodyne personality faded in the presence of the highly engaged Truman, who won 303 electoral votes to Dewey's 189, and was featured in one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

Gary Hart
It didn't directly cost him the presidency, but a peccadillo kept former U.S. Senator Gary Hart from the 1988 nomination that was his to lose.

After finishing a close second in the previous campaign's primaries, the Colorado democrat was heavily favored to appear on the 1988 general ballot. To party faithful, Hart was the one candidate who could formidably challenge the presumptive republican nominee, sitting Vice President George H.W. Bush. In April of 1987, Hart formally announced his all-but-expected candidacy. Three weeks later, after being accused by multiple journalists of cheating on his wife, and in one of the biggest examples of overweening self-confidence ever uttered, Hart offered the portentous line to would-be muckrakers, "Follow me around. I don't care."

That very day, a major newspaper posted photographs of Donna Rice, a woman 22 years the senator's junior, sitting on his lap and embracing him. Within a week, Hart dropped out. So overwhelming a favorite for the nomination was Hart that the media mockingly referred to the septet of candidates that filled up the void as "The Seven Dwarfs." (The biggest dwarf, eventual nominee Michael Dukakis, lost the general election handily.) Meanwhile, nothing beyond Rice using Hart as a chair was ever proven, nor has either ever admitted to anything inappropriate. In fact, Hart recently celebrated his 54th wedding anniversary. Granted, that includes a couple of separations that predate the Rice affair, but that's a story for another day.

William Howard Taft
There's no parallel to the story of William Howard Taft in modern American politics, but here's the best we can do: Imagine if Hillary Clinton were to be elected president in 2016 and during her administration she infuriated her former boss, Barack Obama, to the point that he came out of retirement to challenge her in the subsequent election.

Taft served in the cabinet of his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, who groomed him for the presidency. By 1910, two years into his only term, Taft had lost control of his party and by some measure, his presidency. Taft lowered tariffs, yet instituted America's first corporate income tax. When Taft filed an antitrust suit against U.S. Steel - the Microsoft of the pre-WWI era - and named Roosevelt in the suit, that tore it. Roosevelt announced he'd seek the 1912 republican nomination, friendship be damned.

Taft narrowly won the nomination, forcing Roosevelt to run as a third ("Bull Moose") party candidate. The republican split handed the presidency to democrat Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt finished second and Taft a distant third, carrying only Vermont and Utah. To this day, that remains the worst showing by a sitting president in history. Taft eventually served on the Supreme Court, but his presidential legacy was forever tarnished by his inability to do one of the few things politicians are supposed to be good at - uniting disparate factions. The moral to the story? Even when you're on top there are still people you need to keep happy, and one thoughtless maneuver can be unforgiving.

The Bottom Line
Much like the other aforementioned elections, this year's election was no different in the number of potentially self-destructive gaffes occurring during a presidential hopeful's campaign. Despite republican candidate Mitt Romney's gaffe-filled race to the White House ("Binders full of women," "47%," "Big Bird"), he remained within a very tight margin up against POTUS Barack Obama. While both men have slipped up occasionally, by making spurious claims and awkward statements, it's important to make a distinction between an unfortunate sound bite and a politician's overall message.

Related Articles
  1. Economics

    How Bernie Sanders Has Avoided Big Money (Mostly)

    Bernie Sanders hasn't entirely avoided PACs with his fundraising, but he has gotten a lot of bang for the buck
  2. Investing News

    Obama Wants to Double Wall Street Regulation

    President Obama wants to double the budgets of the SEC and the CFTC over the next five years.
  3. Economics

    Does Big Money Hurt or Help Clinton and Rubio?

    Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton lead their parties in raising money from Wall Street. Is that a help or a hindrance?
  4. Fundamental Analysis

    The Evolution of Obamacare Since Its Inception

    Find out whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has lived up to its lofty projections from 2010.
  5. Investing News

    Chipotle Served with Criminal Probe

    Chipotle's beat muted expectations and got a clear bill from the CDC, but it now appears that an investigation into its E.coli breakout has expanded.
  6. Stock Analysis

    China Mobile: Just How Big is It? (CHL, CHU, CHA)

    The story behind China Mobile, the biggest company you might never have heard of.
  7. Markets

    The (Expected) Market Impact of the 2016 Election

    With primary season upon us, investor attention is beginning to turn to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
  8. Economics

    Trump vs. Bloomberg: How They Compare

    If Bloomberg enters the presidential race how will he compare to billionaire brethren Trump?
  9. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Economic Changes to Expect if a Republican Wins in 2016

    Discover the five most likely economic changes the United States can expect if a Republican wins the presidential election in 2016.
  10. Term

    What Is Section 1231 Property?

    Section 1231 property is depreciable business property that’s held for a year or longer.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is the Social Security administration responsible for?

    The main responsibility of the U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, is overseeing the country's Social Security program. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Where are the Social Security administration headquarters?

    The U.S. Social Security Administration, or SSA, is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, a suburb just outside of Baltimore. ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Is the Social Security administration a government corporation?

    The U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) is a government agency, not a government corporation. President Franklin Roosevelt ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How does the role of Medicare/Medicaid affect the drugs sector in the U.S.? (UNH, ...

    Medicare and Medicaid have enormous influence on the pharmaceutical, or drugs, sector in the United States. For instance, ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the ethical arguments against government subsidies to companies like Tesla?

    The ethical argument behind government subsidies is that they should be put into place to help industries that will, in turn, ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What do I do if I think an accountant is in violation of the Generally Accepted Accounting ...

    The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) promulgates generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in the United ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  2. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  3. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  4. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  5. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  6. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
Trading Center