Top 9 political scandals, gaffes and controversies of 2016
There may never be another political year like 2016. It’s not easy to narrow down the sheer number of gaffes, scandals and controversies that graced the Internet these past 12 months, but here are some of the more memorable moments from 2016 politics.
What is Aleppo?
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson made an awkward and momentum-sapping gaffe on live television in September, when on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” he was asked how he would handle the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Syria. Johnson responded: “What is Aleppo?” After a moment of silence, the questioner asked, “You’re kidding?” He wasn’t.
Emails, Emails, Emails
If there was a word that dominated political news coverage in 2016, it was “emails.” First, Hillary Clinton grappled throughout 2016 with the fallout from earlier revelations she exclusively used a private server and email for government business while secretary of state. The controversy flared again in the final two weeks of the race. But other email problems dogged the Democratic side. Just days before their convention in July, WikiLeaks released emails from DNC staffers appearing to show favoritism for Clinton over primary rival Bernie Sanders. This led to anger from activists and ultimately the resignation of DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She was replaced by Donna Brazile, who later would come under fire when emails showed she appeared to leak primary debate questions to the Clinton camp. Those messages surfaced in a second WikiLeaks document dump of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The daily drip-drip led to dozens of embarrassing articles for the campaign about infighting and ethical concerns.
The Obama administration in January announced an agreement between the U.S. and Iran to settle a failed, decades-old arms deal that included Washington returning to Tehran $400 million and an additional $1.3 billion in interest. However, reports later revealed the initial $400 million was delivered on Jan. 17 — the same day Tehran agreed to release four American prisoners. It was quickly decried as a ransom payment by Republicans.
The Donald Trump campaign was hit by an “October surprise” in the form of a leaked video from 2005 showing Trump making sexually crude comments about women with Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” Critics argued the tape, in which Trump’s advice about women is “grab them by the p—-,” showed him admitting sexual assault. While Trump’s campaign denied this interpretation, Trump was forced to issue a rare apology. A number of women later claimed Trump had sexually assaulted or harassed them – claims Trump denied.
Another sexting scandal
Former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, married to and now estranged from longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin, was hit by yet another sexting scandal in 2016 when the FBI opened an investigation into allegations he had sent explicit messages to a 15-year-old girl. While a scandal in and of itself, it became more important when, in the course of that investigation, FBI agents found emails pertinent to the closed investigation into Clinton’s email server on his computer. This caused FBI Director James Comey to announce he was reopening the probe in October. Clinton aides would later blame the reopening (and subsequent closure) of the case as a key reason for her loss.
Rubio on repeat
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., had been one of the favorites to win the Republican nomination during presidential primary season. As 2016 arrived, there was a narrative that Trump would burn out and the nomination would be a fight between Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But Rubio had a disastrous moment at a New Hampshire primary debate in February when he argued, “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing – he knows exactly what he’s doing,” and took a swipe at Chris Christie’s record. When Christie accused him of using a prepared line, Rubio went on to repeat it over and over again with the same tone. The clip went viral. Rubio dropped out in March.
At a New York fundraiser in September, Clinton told the audience “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’… the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … you name it.” Trump seized on the comments, and Clinton was forced to backtrack. The “deplorables” comment became a recurring theme in the remainder of the race.
Firebrand Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage got into hot water in August after he left an obscene voicemail on a Democratic lawmaker’s machine for allegedly calling him a racist. “I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I’m a racist. I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-b—-, socialist c—sucker,” he said. LePage apologized and came under pressure to resign, though he stayed in office.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush initially was the favorite to clinch the Republican nomination. But under pressure, especially on the debate stage, from the pugnacious Trump, Bush faltered and struggled to translate his considerable war chest into support at the polls. Trump’s “low energy” nickname stuck, and was epitomized in February when, after giving an impassioned speech about national security, he was met with silence and had to urge supporters to “please clap.”