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Yep, that happened: A tribute to the 2012 Republican primary



April 27, 2011 – Obama releases long-form birth certificate

In an effort to put questions of his eligibility for the White House to rest, President Obama releases his long-form birth certificate. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

The White House released President Barack Obama’s so-called “long form” birth certificate last April, primarily in response to provocations by Donald Trump, the real estate magnate and reality TV host who had flirted with a bid for the Republican nomination. Trump actually spent a brief period of time atop the polls versus the rest of the fledgling GOP field. Obama decried “carnival barkers” in remarks upon the release of his birth certificate, and Trump faded in the polls before deciding to run for president.

May 15, 2011 – Gingrich calls Ryan plan ‘right-wing social engineering’

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said, "I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering" to explain why he thinks Rep. Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., plan is "too big a jump."

Having just launched his campaign for president, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared on “Meet the Press,” where he faced a question about Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s new budget. The plan had been under attack by Democrats who asserted Republicans would end Medicare as it’s currently known by most Americans. 

“I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said of the plan. It prompted immediate backlash from conservatives who supported the plan. Ryan himself quipped: "With allies like that, who needs the left?" – a line rival campaigns would use later against the former speaker.

May 31, 2011 – Palin and Trump grab a slice

Sarah Palin's bus tour brought her to Times Square on Tuesday, and she and pal Donald Trump dined on New York City chain pizza. And in other water cooler news, Jon Stewart weighs in on Weinergate.

At this point in the 2012 cycle, whether Sarah Palin would be throwing her hat in the ring for the GOP nomination was a persistant, lingering question.

Her bus tour through the Northeast, which stopped in New Hampshire the same day Mitt Romney formally launched his candidacy in the state, only stoked speculation that Palin would make a run for the White House.

But the most press-frenzied moment of her trip came on May 31, when Palin’s tour bus rolled into Manhattan. She met Donald Trump, who had announced that he would not be a candidate for president, for a slice at a New York pizzeria while a throng of media observed from the outside.

June 9, 2011 – Gingrich suffers mass resignations

Jason Minick / AP

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaks during the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Camp Hill, Pa., Saturday March 24, 2012.

With his campaign reeling from the scrape with Paul Ryan, revelations that Gingrich had enjoyed a six-figure line of credit with the jeweler Tiffany & Co., and an ill-timed vacation to Greece, a throng of the former speaker’s top aides resigned all at once. The resignations prompted speculation in the media about when – not if – Gingrich would be forced to end his campaign.

June 13, 2011 – Pawlenty passes on ‘Obamneycare’

Top Talkers: The Morning Joe panel – including Random House's Jon Meacham and Fortune's Andy Serwer – discusses Monday night's GOP debate in New Hampshire and what mistakes Tim Pawlenty made.

Tim Pawlenty had hoped to emerge as a major challenger to Mitt Romney this cycle, and a day before Republicans gathered for one of their earliest debates, the former Minnesota governor trotted out a new attack line against Romney.

Pawlenty coined the term “Obamneycare” during an appearance on FOX News Sunday, a term meant to fuse the president’s health reform law, an unpopular plan with conservatives, and the similar law Romney had implemented while governor of Massachusetts.

But just 24 hours later, Pawlenty declined to repeat that same attack while sharing the stage with Romney, and suffered a blow to his campaign. He would eventually drop out of the race after the Ames Straw Poll in August.

Pawlenty went on to endorse Romney, though ironically, other Republican candidates have used the “Obamneycare” slur against Romney.

Aug. 11, 2011 – ‘Corporations are people, my friend’

James Hoffa, the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, says that GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney's statement that people are corporations is "bizarre."

Mitt Romney was widely expected to run for president again, but took a deliberately slow pace in getting his campaign up to full speed.

Romney didn’t participate in the Ames Straw Poll, but he joined most of the other Republican candidates in the time-honored tradition of going to the Iowa State Fair. That included a soapbox speech for Romney, where he was met by a liberal heckler who pressed Romney on favorable treatment of corporations.

“Corporations are people, my friend,” Romney blurted in response. The comment went viral immediately on Twitter, and Democrats quickly pounced to paint Romney as an ally of big business.

Aug. 15, 2011 – Perry says printing more money is ‘almost treasonous’

After jumping into the race, Rick Perry is already taking on the Federal Reserve saying printing more money would be "treasonous" and questioning President Obama's patriotism. NBC's Carrie Dann reports.

After an incredibly hyped launch to his candidacy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry marched into Iowa with a schedule full of campaigning.

To conclude his first full day on the trail, though, Perry seemed to suggest that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be acting treasonously if he were to authorize a more expansive monetary policy before the election. Moreover, Perry hinted that Bernanke would be treated poorly at the very least if he were in Texas.

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election,” Perry said at a gathering in Cedar Rapids, “I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we — we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous in my opinion."

August 2011 – ‘9-9-9’

In Detroit Friday, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain introduced a new version of his 9-9-9 economic plan.

Herman Cain debuted his catchphrase-based tax plan in August, and it would serve as a cornerstone of the former pizza magnate’s surge in the polls later in the fall. 

The plan called for a radical restructuring of the tax code, replacing much of it with a nine percent tax each on individual income, corporate income and sales.

The plan, and the number nine, would develop into Cain’s boilerplate response to most questions about his economic policy. Serious scrutiny of the plan suggested that it would blow a serious hole in the deficit, and Cain’s rivals attacked the introduction of a sales tax as a slippery slope that threatened abuse by the government. 

Sept. 7, 2011 – Audience cheers Texas executions

In Wednesday night's NBC News/Politico debate, GOP front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney engaged early and often at the Reagan Presidential Library. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

At an NBC News debate in September – Rick Perry’s first – moderator Brian Williams posed a question to the Texas governor about the record number of prisoners executed during his time in office.

When Williams noted the 234 executions, members of the audience broke out into applause regarding the question, which was intended to ask Perry whether he had any doubt about whether any of those prisoners might have been innocent. 

"But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed,” Perry said, earning more applause from the audience. 

When pressed by Williams on the crowd reaction, Perry added: "I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment."

The strong reaction from the crowd set the tone for a number of debates during the primary season, where reactions from the audience - in part - framed perception of the candidates on TV.

Sept. 13, 2011 – Bachmann says HPV vaccine causes 'retardation'

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has reignited the debate over the HPV vaccine during her presidential campaign, has come under fire for claiming it has "dangerous" side effects and may cause mental retardation. 


The morning following a presidential debate, Bachmann appeared on the TODAY show and suggested that the vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus might be linked to intellectual disabilities.

Her poll numbers tarnished by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had mandated the vaccine for young women during his time in office, Bachmann attacked Perry for forcing the vaccine on young women.

But on the TODAY show, Bachmann went a step further. “I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate,” she said. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter ... This is a very real concern and people have to draw their own conclusions.”

Sept. 23, 2011 – Debate audience boos gay soldier

Thomas Roberts talks with MSNBC'S Chris Hayes about how audience members at Thursday's GOP debate in Florida responded to a question from openly-gay soldier Stephen Hill.

A Republican debate in mid-September featured some questions submitted to the candidates by YouTube users.

One such question came from a member of the U.S. military who was gay, just days after the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had ended.

“In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I’m a gay soldier, and I didn’t want to lose my job,” said Stephen Hill, whose image was projected on a large TV screen in the debate hall. “My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?”

The question was met with some loud boos from members of the audience, which came on the heels of their controversial reaction to the execution of prisoners in Texas just a couple of weeks earlier.

Oct. 8, 2011 – ‘Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan’

From pizza executive to top-tier GOP presidential hopeful, Herman Cain's stock is on the rise. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has more on Cain and his 9-9-9 plan.

Herman Cain began to surge in the polls in early October, and started to receive more serious questioning about his views, especially foreign policy.

Cain had emphasized his 9-9-9 tax plan as the primary element of his candidacy, and admittedly said that he would leave foreign policy to advisers.

“I’m ready for the ‘gotcha’ questions and they’re already starting to come. And when they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan I’m going to say, 'You know, I don’t know. Do you know?' And then I’m going to say, 'how’s that going to create one job?'” he told the Christian Broadcast Network.

The interview led to even more pointed questioning of Cain’s foreign policy views and a more aggressive vetting of the former pizza executive’s record in the press. 

Oct. 18, 2011 – ‘I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake!’

Chuck has all of the highlights of last night's hard hits at the debate.

At the height of his battle against a surging Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney called into question Perry’s toughness on illegal immigrants given the law Perry had signed granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants who attended colleges and universities in Texas.

Perry turned the line of attack against Romney, saying the former Massachusetts governor had hired a lawn care company for his home that had employed illegal immigrants. Romney offered an explanation, albeit an inartful one that made him seem like a political opportunist.

"So we went to the company, and we said, 'Look, you can't have any illegals working on our property,” Romney said. “I'm running for office, for Pete's sake! I can't have illegals!'”

Nov. 7, 2011 – Sharon Bialek accuses Herman Cain of harassment

A fourth woman, Sharon Bialek, came forward with new allegations of sexual harassment against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain at a press conference on Monday. Cain denied these accusations. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has more.

After climbing his way to the top of the polls of Republican presidential contenders, various media outlets reported that Cain, during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association, had been forced to settle at least two claims of sexual harassment against him.

The accusers remained anonymous, and Cain vehemently denied having ever acted inappropriately (and still does today).

Nonetheless, it was the eventual emergence of Sharon Bialek, with the assistance of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who put a public face to the accusations against Cain. Bialek offered graphic descriptions of her allegations, which added fuel to the fire that had engulfed the Cain campaign. The former Godfathers Pizza CEO would suspend his campaign just a few weeks later.

Nov. 9, 2011 – ‘Oops.’

Rick Perry stole the spotlight at the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, when he was unable to remember which of three government agencies he would abolish. NBC's Chuck Todd has more.

Maybe no single word is more associated with Rick Perry’s bid for the presidential nomination than “oops.”

The Texas governor had received a great deal of scrutiny for his poor performances in debates, where he minced words and appeared fatigued at points. His stumbling answer to a question regarding his plan to eliminate three government agencies crystalized that narrative and virtually crippled his candidacy.

“Commerce, Education and the  — what’s the third one there? Let’s see,” Perry said, pausing.

"The third agency of government I would do away with – the Education, the Commerce. And let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Oops."

Nov. 9, 2011 – Gingrich says he served Freddie Mac as a ‘historian’

Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg and MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter debate whether Newt Gingrich's Freddie Mac connection will cause him to fall in the polls.

After Newt Gingrich had begun to surge again in the polls, Mitt Romney’s campaign countered by digging up the former speaker’s work for troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

At a debate in Michigan, Gingrich explained his paid contract with Freddie Mac by denying having ever lobbied for the company. Instead, the ex-speaker asserted, he had consulted with the company in his capacity as a historian.

“I have never done any lobbying, every contract that was written during the period when I was out of the office specifically said I would do no lobbying, and I offered advice. And my advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, we are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do, is I said  — I said to them at the time: This is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible,” he said.” 

Nov. 14, 2011 – Cain: ‘I got all this stuff twirling around in my head’

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain stumbled on the campaign trail Monday when asked about Libya by the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

Besieged by accusations of sexual harassment, Herman Cain hardly made matters better for his campaign during a sit-down interview with the editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When asked about his position on President Obama’s management of the uprising in Libya last year, Cain appeared taken off-guard by the question and not immediately familiar with the president’s policy. His answer was captured on video.

"I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason — nope, that's a different one. [pause] I gotta go back and see," he said. "I got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Specifically, what are you asking me that I agree or not disagree with Obama?" 

Dec. 10, 2011 – The $10,000 bet

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is under fire for challenging rival Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet during the last GOP presidential debate, a move that highlighted his huge wealth. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

Another spat between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry at a Republican debate in December led to a cringe-worthy moment.

The Texas governor asserted that Romney had removed a passage expressing support for health care mandates in the paperback edition of his book. Romney insisted that was not the case, and was so confident in his stance that he offered Perry a wager.

"Rick, I'll tell you what — $10,000 bucks, $10,000 bet," Romney said, extending his hand to shake Perry’s. (The Texan declined.)

The moment provided fodder for Romney’s foes, Republican and Democratic, to underscore his wealth — painting him as the type of person who could casually bet ten large.

Jan. 19, 2012 – Gingrich angrily rebuffs ‘open marriage’ question

At Thursday's Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich slammed the news media for focusing on accusations by his ex-wife that he requested an "open marriage." NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Newt Gingrich was sure to face a question at this pivotal debate before the South Carolina about the allegations leveled by one of his ex-wives that Gingrich, while he was speaker of the House, had requested an “open marriage,” or otherwise wanted a divorce.

The allegations cut directly to the questions of character that rivals of Gingrich sought to stoke.

But when CNN anchor John King asked the question to open the South Carolina debate, the ex-speaker showed a flash of anger in response.

"The destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," he said, earning raucous applause.

The response was so effective that none of Gingrich’s rivals piled on, all declining to comment on the allegations against Gingrich.

Jan. 25, 2012 – Gingrich pledges lunar colony by 2020

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said on Florida's space coast that if he is elected president he will create a moon colony by 2020.

Fresh off his upstart victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich sought to challenge Mitt Romney one-on-one in the succeeding primary in Florida.

The former House speaker campaigned through the state, including a stop in its hard-hit Space Coast – where he causally suggested one of his most “grandiose” ideas of the campaign.

"By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon. And it will be American," Gingrich told a crowd, prompting guffaws from the media and rival campaigns. Romney would eventually win Florida by a healthy margin. 

Feb. 1, 2012 – ‘I’m not concerned about the very poor’

Just how big of a deal is Mitt Romney's comment about the country's "very poor"? Will Democrats seize on this remark and paint Romney as being out of touch with the country? Former DLC chairman Harold Ford Jr. joins a conversation on Romney's latest gaffe.

Continuing an alarming string of gaffes after major primary wins, Mitt Romney gave an interview the day after winning the Florida primary in which he seemed to shrug off helping the poor.

"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it," Romney said on CNN. "I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling."

While the comment was meant to emphasize the focus of the Romney campaign on the middle class, the remark had major reverberations and forced an explanation from the campaign. Romney would have to continue to toil for weeks before gaining a stronger grip on the nomination.

Feb. 24, 2012 – Romney’s Ford Field speech

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Members of the Detroit Economic club gather to hear a speech by Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during a luncheon at Ford Field on February 24, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.

Mitt Romney returned to Michigan, the state where he was born and raised, to deliver what had been billed as a major economic address at Ford Field, the downtown home of the Detroit Lions.

But when the press arrived to the stadium, it was mostly empty except for some risers and about 1,000 seats for the members of the Detroit Economic Club in attendance. Romney’s speech and their applause echoed throughout the cavernous sports complex, making for poor optics for the speech.

The event was originally intended to be held in a hotel ballroom. But when tickets sold out in less than an hour, a larger venue was needed. Unfortunately, the one selected couldn't possibly be filled.

Making matters worse, in a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Romney pivoted to talk about his love for cars, and the American cars he and his wife owned.

“I drive a Mustang and Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually," he said, again inviting critics to highlight his personal wealth. 

Feb. 26, 2012 – Santorum says JFK speech made him sick

GOP candidate Rick Santorum criticizes JFK's famous church-state speech and defends the role of religion in American politics.

Amid a very tough battle against Mitt Romney in Michigan, Rick Santorum faced fresh questioning about whether he stood by remarks he made the preceding year, when he said he “almost threw up” after reading John F. Kennedy’s speech on the separation of church and state.

"Well, yes, absolutely,” Santorum said on ABC when asked whether the speech really made him ill. “To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.”

The comment came at a point when social issues had reached the forefront of the campaign, driven by a nationwide debate over coverage for contraceptives, and whether religious institutions’ insurers should be exempted from a requirement to cover birth control.

March 21, 2012 – Etch A Sketch

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the feeding frenzy over Romney's aide's Etch A Sketch comment.

The day after winning the Illinois primary by a commanding margin, a top aide to Mitt Romney appeared on CNN and likened the candidate’s pivot to the general election to erasing an Etch A Sketch.

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes,” adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. “It's almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Democrats and Romney’s Republican rivals quickly pounced on the gaffe. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich each showed up to campaign events throughout the day with the children’s toy in tow, and reference to the moment was incorporated into one of Vice President Biden’s later campaign speeches.

Romney had to react quickly to control the damage, hastily arranging a one-question press conference to mitigate the fallout.

"I'm running as a conservative Republican," he told reporters in Maryland. "I'll be running as a conservative Republican nominee."

Mar. 25, 2012 – Santorum calls reporter’s question ‘bulls***’

Mitt Romney is calling Rick Santorum's campaign "unhinged" after Santorum cursed out a New York Times reporter.

The odds growing that he would become the Republican nominee, Rick Santorum suggested at a campaign stop in late March that giving President Obama a second term would be better than electing Mitt Romney.

When asked by a New York Times reporter about the remark, Santorum reacted angrily.

"Quit distorting my words," Santorum said in Wisconsin. "If I see it, it's bulls---."

The rival Romney campaign played up the comment to portray Santorum’s campaign as having come off the rails.