The best Republican gaffes of 2011

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As time goes on, elections seems to start earlier and cost more. Republican primary voting for 2012 starts January 3 in Iowa, but the candidates began cropping up last spring, and President Obama is expected to raise a billion dollars to do combat in the protracted campaign battle. At this point Mitt Romney has been campaigning so long he almost seems like the incumbent.

While it may have taken an excruciatingly long time for a front-runner to emerge in the Republican field, one thing became crystal clear early on in this election cycle: In 2011, Republicans were the party of dumb.

And coming off a George W. Bush presidency still fresh in our minds, that’s really saying something.

In the end it should give us some hope that the truly dumb ones got left behind—but the two smartest and most sane of the bunch, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, never really got much attention in the first place.

In 1992, VP candidate Dan Quayle made political history with an epic gaffe when he lost a spelling bee to an elementary school kid on the world “potato.” It’s an embarrassment that still gets plenty of press. But this year has had at least a half-dozen gaffes that rival Quayle’s sad display. Let’s take a look back at some highlights:

Rick Perry’s “Oops”
This might have been the most painful 53 seconds in debate history. Perry reached into his brain to reference a talking point that had surely been hammered home—the agencies of federal government he’d cut if elected president—and simply came up empty. After nearly a minute of excruciating bumbling on national television, all he could offer is, “I forget. Oops.”

Herman Cain quotes Pokemon
This one was so crazy that BuzzFeed suggested Cain might have been the butt of a vicious prank by evil campaign staff.

At least twice in his campaign, Cain quoted directly from “Pokemon: The Movie 2000.” Signing off from his wild ride as he suspended his campaign, he offered: “Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, it’s never easy when there is so much on the line. But you can make a difference.”

Michele Bachmann says HPV vaccination causes “mental retardation”
After lobbing this egregious whopper, Michele Bachmann did apologize, acknowledging that it was a mistake. Her defense was that she heard it from “a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate.” The question the country asked itself was, “What would have happened if Bachmann were president and that same random crying woman had suggested she bomb Iran?”

Gingrich’s entire staff quits after he vacations in Greece rather than campaigning
Shortly after it was revealed that Gingrich had a revolving line of credit of a million dollars at Tiffany and with Gingrich’s fledgling campaign already looking like a nonstarter, the former House Speaker picked that precise moment to blow off the campaign trail in favor of a Greek cruise with his wife. Almost his entire staff subsequently quit.

But by the time bomb fuse lit on Herman Cain’s sexual harassment charges everyone seemed to have forgotten about it.

Rick Perry thinks you have to be 21 to vote
After Rick Perry’s “oops” moment it seemed unlikely that he’d be able to surpass his own high-water mark for embarrassing gaffes, but he sure gave it a shot with this one. Speaking to a group of young voters in New Hampshire, Perry said he hoped they’d all be 21 on November 12 so they could come out and vote. He’s obviously also unaware that Election Day is November 6.

Sarah Palin’s retelling of Paul Revere’s midnight ride
Sure, Palin was never a candidate, but she’s been a face of the Republican Party since McCain lost in ’08.

Taking a historic tour in Boston, she said of Revere: “He who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.” Seriously—that wasn’t from one of the slower kids on a class trip, that was from someone who was pondering a run at commander-in-chief.

Michele Bachmann thinks Libya is someplace else other than Africa
Insisting Obama was being too hawkish in his foreign policy, Bachmann recently said, “The president, he put us in Libya. He is now putting us in Africa.”

To be fair, we are talking about a politician most closely aligned with Fox News, which once put Egypt smack in the middle of the Middle East on a show in 2009.

Mitt Romney’s $10,000 bet
At a recent debate in Iowa, Mitt Romney challenged Rick Perry to a bet for $10,000 over whether a particular line appeared in his book.

That’s a lot of cheddar to toss around so casually—especially for a guy who jokingly called himself “unemployed” this summer.

It’s also roughly three months’ salary for the average working person in the state in which the debate was being held. Suffice it to say, Romney probably turned off a few voters that night.

Congratulations, class of 2011: you’ve outdone yourself this year.