This isn’t even the craziest election in US history
The standard is pretty high
So, this election cycle has been weird. Really weird. Like, almost 40 percent of Floridian voters believe Ted Cruz could possibly be the infamous Zodiac Killer weird. We started off with nearly every notable republican announcing his (in one case, her) candidacy, as well as an outsider business mogul and reality TV star whom no one thought would last long in the race.
Now that the seemingly impossible has happened, and Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, people are starting to feel like America has never seen an election as strange as this one.
They could be wrong. “Craziest” and “weirdest” are lofty accusations for an American election, especially remembering that not long ago someone who admitted to practicing witchcraft ran for a seat in the Senate, and only eight years ago we watched Sarah Palin stumble through her campaign as vice presidential hopeful before moving on to star in her own reality TV show.
To help put this presidential election in perspective, here are some of the strangest, most controversial election moments in American history.
Thomas Jefferson’s and John Adams’ backers viciously attack each candidate
Nasty campaign ads aren’t a recent addition to elections, though they have been able to reach a wider audience through TV and the internet. Early presidential campaigns got away with saying just about anything about the opponent they opposed. They make John Boehner calling Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” seem pretty tame. During the 1800 election between President John Adams and his opponent Thomas Jefferson, one newspaper published under President Jefferson, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” Another Adams supporter claimed if Jefferson were elected “we would see our wives and daughters the victims of legal prostitution.” Well, Jefferson was elected, and that didn’t happen.
A sitting vice president shoots his rival
Yes, a sitting vice president once shot and killed his political opponent. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had been longtime political rivals, taking swings at the other’s reputation or career at any chance they got. During the 1800 presidential election, when Aaron Burr was tied against Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton convinced congressmen to put Jefferson in office, leaving Burr the vice presidency. Still the Vice President, Burr finally challenged Hamilton to a duel in 1804, shot him, and was slammed with two counts of murder after Hamilton died the next day.
In a Trump-like fashion, Andrew Jackson earned the love and support of Americans after proving his eagerness to secure the wants of a very homogenous group of people from years of battling and driving away Native Americans. He also charmed voters by using the I’m just like you card to resonate with poor, rural Americans. Though he won the popular vote, he lost the election with too few electoral votes. When he did become president in the next election, he took executive power to the extreme. He used the presidential veto more than any of the presidents before him had combined, and he famously denied to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision that Georgia couldn’t force Cherokees off their land.
The South secedes after Lincoln’s election
We really can’t call an election season the craziest we’ve ever had until half the nation just decides to peace out, like the southern states did after Lincoln’s election in 1860. Sure, tensions had been rising for decades between the two sides that would fight in the Civil War, but Lincoln’s win was what finally set South Carolina to announce its secession, soon followed by the other slave states.
Eugene Debs runs for president from prison
Before Bernie Sanders made waves with his socialist view for America, there was Eugene Debs, who ran for president five times for the American Socialist party, the last time running from his prison cell. You can’t get much more anti-establishment than launching a campaign while you’re locked up by the establishment. He was serving a 10 year prison sentence for opposing World War I, and he still garnered almost a million votes.
The first televised presidential election debate between Nixon and John Kennedy totally upheaved the landscape of campaigns. Kennedy came out looking much better than Nixon, who “had refused make-up for the cameras, wore an ill-fitting shirt, and hadn’t gained back his natural weight after a serious knee injury and two weeks in the hospital.” Kennedy even admitted the influence of the TV helped put him in the White House.
Al Gore’s campaign demands a recount
Some of Al Gore’s supporters believed for years after the 2000 election that Gore could have won the presidency through a closer look at Florida’s votes, but the US Supreme Court ruled to stop the recount. After a month long battle over the validity of Bush’s win, Gore’s campaign finally acknowledged defeat. Media outlets and researchers still conducted their own recounts, and years later, news organizations like CNN are still examining what happened.
That whole Sarah Palin fiasco
In 2008, programs like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live were blessed with months of material as Sarah Palin joined John McCain’s campaign as his pick for Vice President. She constantly stumbled her way through interviews, like in an ABC News interview when Charlie Gibson caught her unprepared by asking her about her stance on the Bush Doctrine, and she seemed to not know what the Bush Doctrine even was. Then, there was that famous incident where she was caught reading some of her main talking points off her hand during a speech at a Tea Party Convention. Just about everything Palin did turned into fuel for Tina Fey’s impression of her on SNL and made for one of the most memorable presidential elections yet.
Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell admits she practiced witchcraft
Arguably one of the weirdest moments in any recent american election was when Christine O’Donnell, running to replace the opening Joe Biden left in the Senate when he became vice president, had to address her past involvement in witchcraft. On an episode of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher shows a clip of her saying, “I dabbled into witchcraft — I never joined a coven. But I did, I did. I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.”
She also said during her campaign she heard the “audible voice of God,” and she often spoke out strongly against masturbation and porn.
We can’t leave out one of America’s biggest milestones since the civil rights gains of the 60s. Let’s not forget, we saw Oprah Winfrey cry at Obama’s inauguration. Despite the powerful message of the outcome of the 2008 election, the campaign season was nasty, and there were a lot of low blows. Immediately after the election, NBC reported hundreds of incidents in response to Obama’s win, like people burning crosses, writing racist messages on cars and homes, and hanging effigies from nooses. The milestone of a having black man in the White House didn’t come without chaos.
Rick Perry forgets what his platform is
Much like Palin having to write her political positions on her hand as a reminder, former Texas Governor and GOP primary candidate Rick Perry seemed to forget what it was he stood for during a 2011 GOP debate. He said he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies as president, but he couldn’t remember what the third was, even after the moderators gave him a few moments to think, and another candidate, Ron Paul, offered a suggestion of which other agency he wanted to cut. Perry eventually went with the answer: “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
Jimmy McMillan made waves in the media when he ran for governor of New York with the catchphrase: “The rent is too damn high.” He also sported Dumbledore-like locks and a beard resembling two golf balls dangling from his chin. His bold look paired with his unique slogan scored him his own impersonation on SNL done by Kenan Thompson. A few years later, he made it back on the internet with a rap video, still preaching, “The rent is too damn high.”