GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Newt Gingrich didn't know when he would
take office if he wins the presidency. Rick Perry got the voting
age and the date of Election Day wrong. Herman Cain didn't realize
the president does not sign amendments to the Constitution.
In ways large and small, Republican presidential hopefuls are
proving on multiple occasions to be "factually challenged," as
Gingrich rather haughtily described a rival, despite getting some
things wrong himself.
Campaigns are long and tough, candidates are often tired and
flubs happen. But they are adding up and at some point could give
Republican voters pause as they look for the candidate best able to
take on the highly polished - though hardly factually infallible -
President Barack Obama.
In submitting to what is, in effect, America's toughest job
interview, there may be only so much leeway in getting matters of
current affairs and history plain wrong.
Frequent flubber Michele Bachmann's suggestion many months ago
that the Revolutionary battles of Lexington and Concord took place
in New Hampshire was an opening shot, of sorts, in a volley of
misfires by the candidates. Those battles were fought in
Massachusetts in 1775.
In the months since, Cain promoted Chile's retirement system as
one that gives workers the option of having private accounts, when
in fact they have no choice. Mitt Romney accused Obama of
"peacetime spending binges" as if there were no wars going on.
Bachmann accused Obama of canceling a Canadian pipeline project
that has only been delayed.
On Wednesday, Gingrich told voters packed into Tommy's Country
Ham House in Greenville, S.C., that he would sign legislation
repealing health care and Wall Street overhauls when he takes
office on Jan. 21, 2013.
"My intent will be to ask the new Congress to stay in session
when they are sworn in on Jan. 3 and to pass - and hold at the desk
until I'm sworn in on the 21st - to pass the repeal of Obamacare
and the repeal of Dodd-Frank and the repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley so
that I can sign them on the 21st," Gingrich told the packed
One problem: the Constitution that Gingrich constantly cites
during his presidential campaign says the transition of power after
an election takes place on Jan. 20.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich would assume
powers at noon on Jan. 20, 2013, following the 20th Amendment of
the Constitution. Because that day is a Sunday, the Inauguration's
festivities would be scheduled on Jan. 21 of that year. Ronald
Reagan followed a similar schedule for his second inaugural on
Monday, Jan. 21, 1985.
Even so, Gingrich was wrong to say "I'm sworn in on the 21st."
A day earlier, Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested the voting age is
21 and got the date wrong for Election Day.
"Those of you that will be 21 by November the 12th, I ask for
your support and your vote," he told students at Saint Anselm
College in New Hampshire.
The voting age is 18. And New Hampshire is scheduled to be the
first state in the nation to host a Republican presidential primary
on Jan. 10; the general election is scheduled for Nov. 6, 2012.
And Cain said he would back an amendment to the Constitution to
"If we can get the necessary support and it comes to my desk,
I'll sign it," he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Except presidents don't sign amendments. Congress passes them
and the states ratify them. The president could champion them, but
the Constitution doesn't give him or her any formal role.
Since the campaign's start, each candidate has had a turn
explaining errors as either the side effects of an exhausting
schedule or simple foot-in-mouth syndrome. Under the intense media scrutiny, each misstep or error draws questions whether each
candidate is up for the job.
Romney, too, stepped in it. The former Massachusetts governor
said Obama engaged in "one of the biggest peacetime spending
binges in American history." He overlooked the United States' role
in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
Yet not all errors are created equal, said Eric Dezenhall, an
aide in the Reagan administration and now an image consultant who
has worked with everyone from Hollywood stars to business moguls.
"The key factor in whether a gaffe catches on is whether or not
it validates a pre-existing prejudice," he said.
"When Perry says that the voting age is 21, it validates the
pre-existing suspicion that he's not in command of the basics," he
said. "When Newt or Obama say something that is either misguided
or incorrect, it doesn't resonate because everybody knows they are
smart guys, so they get a break."
And it's not as if Obama hasn't had his doozies. For instance,
Obama said during the 2008 campaign that he had visited 57 states.
The United States only has 50.
"The flubs that stick are those that fit with a storyline about
the candidate," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic consultant who
helped Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. "Gingrich
isn't a flubber. He's known for being full of himself and making
wacky statements, not flubbing the facts. So the misstatements are
less likely to stick to him."
And voters might not care about factual details, Hattaway said.
"Best case of that is George W. Bush, who couldn't pass a
civics quiz to save his life. Emotional intelligence is more
important in politics than factual knowledge," Hattaway said.
Gingrich might be playing that to his own political advantage.
Before he seemed to reschedule the constitutional transition of
power, he criticized Bachmann for stretching the facts about his
record on abortion.
"Some people are just factually challenged and it's
unfortunate," Gingrich told reporters. "In the eyes of a teacher,
occasionally I'd have a student who couldn't figure out where
things were, or what things were, or what the right date was. When
that happens, you feel sorry that they're so factually
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)