Dr. Oz, Crudité, and the Gaffes that Matter
The viral video of the New Jersey Republican is a textbook example of the gaffes that damage campaigns
Every once in a while, political Twitter is not a soul-sucking hellscape of divisive rhetoric and asinine takes from some of the worst (and dumbest) people on the planet. For the last few days, we have all enjoyed a very funny and bizarre video from Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania. I could try to explain it, but there is no chance I could do it justice. You’re just going to have to watch.
There is so much to unpack here. What is Dr. Oz wearing? Why does he put salsa and guacamole on his crudité? How did he get the name of the grocery he visited wrong? Who in the Oz campaign hates their candidate so much that this video saw the light of day?
In the end, this is all just a passing diversion during the dog days of August, right? Maybe not. No campaign is won or lost on a single dumb video, but this one could matter. And the reasons why tell us a lot about politics in 2022.
Which Gaffes Matter?
Not every gaffe is equal. Most of them amount to nothing. They titillate Twitter and fill up some time on cable for a day or two and then disappear into the ether. Not a single vote is moved, and none of the people who will decide the election change their opinions. John Sides, a political scientist, has studied the impact of gaffes. His work suggests that they rarely move votes. See this chart from the 2012 election (which represents the apex of the press’s obsession with gaffes).
For all this sturm and drang following misstatements by candidates, the polls barely budged. This makes sense because there is a pretty wide chasm between what the political obsessives care about and what interests the less engaged voters who decide elections. I generally hate the press’s obsession with gaffes and misstatements. It’s lazy journalism and a disservice to the public and the profession.
But some gaffes do matter. Understanding the impactful ones is key.
Caught on Camera with a Kinsley Gaffe
Some gaffes run so counter to the public’s impression that they are easily dismissed. With less than subtle racism, Republicans loved to use any gaffe Obama made as proof that he was dumb. But even the most virulent Obama-haters knew he was brilliant.
Others are the object of derision by political elites but are endearing to the public. The Republicans love to jump on Biden whenever he makes a misstatement or garbles a word. They want to drive the narrative that Biden has dementia. But for most voters, when Biden, who overcame a stutter, periodically misspeaks, it only makes him more human.
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