Reporter's Notebook

Gaffe Track
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Every presidential campaign is full of unpredictable twists and turns. After a brief moment where it looked like the nation might slouch into a Bush-Clinton rematch, the 2016 election is taking its place in that line of strange journeys. The one sure thing: There will be gaffes.

Knowing that the range of gaffes is wide, and that the import of a gaffe is often inflated (or overlooked) early on, Gaffe Track is The Atlantic’s bid to cover these gaffes with a consistent approach, creating a nearly real-time chronological inventory of the missteps, miscalculations, and misstatements of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Show 86 Newer Notes

Gaffe Track: What Kind of Clock Does Rick Perry Use?

(Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

The candidate: Rick Perry

The gaffe: On Thursday, Donald Trump claimed Perry was about to leave the race. Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson asked if it was true. “A broken clock is right once a day, but the bottom line is I'm still here, I'm still working,” Perry replied. Not only does it suggest a misunderstanding of timepieces, it seems to (incorrectly) imply that Trump was correct. Oops.

The defense: Maybe Perry, an Air Force veteran, uses military time?

Why it matters (or doesn’t): This is all humor and no substance, and Trump is right that Perry’s campaign is foundering, so it’s largely irrelevant. But his hip new glasses aside, this otherwise minuscule miscue undermines Perry supporters’ claim that their man is sharper and more mentally prepared than he was in 2012.

The moral: When you’re getting your clock cleaned, there’s no time to waste with errors, no matter how minute.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The candidate: Donald J. Trump

The gaffe: Speaking to the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump appeared to confuse the Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, with the Kurds, the minority group battling ISIS in northern Iraq. Trump played it off as a mishearing, but Hewitt noted, “On the front of Islamist terrorism, I’m looking for the next commander in chief to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?” Trump’s reply: “No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone.”

The defense: Trump says he’s a businessman, not a foreign-policy expert. And hey, this stuff is complicated! On the other hand, Carly Fiorina handled similar questions from Hewitt without trouble.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): On the one hand, this makes Trump look a million other ephemeral Republican candidates who soared then crashed—I’m looking at you, Herman Cain and Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan. On the other, Trump’s appeal has never been built on his command of policy details, and it’s hard to imagine there are serious defense wonks who will suddenly abandon him. Trump’s attack on Hewitt as a “third-rate radio announcer” Friday morning will raise eyebrows—Hewitt’s a formidable questioner who’s moderating the next Republican debate. Then again, picking fights with moderators has worked for Trump before.

The moral: Bluster gets you a long way on the campaign trail, but it can’t do everything.