The 2012 election in controversial YouTube videos

As the 2012 election season wraps up, we look back at the fascinating (and sometimes ill-advised) YouTube videos that defined the race for the Presidency.

Mar 3, 2020, 1:17 am*


Justin Franz 

Justin Franz

What a long, strange trip it has been. While YouTube was around during the last Presidential election, its effect on politics has never been more clear than in this current race for the White House.

Since the beginning, YouTube has become one of the most critical ways a political campaign can distribute its message, with speeches, web videos and traditional campaign ads. It can also be a double edged knife and the video sharing site can also host clips that candidates may not want the masses to see.

With election day just a week away, the Daily Dot presents a look back at the 2012 election and how it played out on YouTube. As you will see, some of the most memorable YouTube moments were also some of the most absurd.

Tim Pawlenty: GOP rock star

Even as early as January 2011, potential GOP candidates were making moves on YouTube. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was promoting his new book online, but, as you can see, the video wasn’t really about a book. Produced by GOP favorite Lucas Baiano, the video was really about making the mild mannered, midwestern governor seem exciting.

Jon Huntsman rides a bike

Before he kicked off his campaign, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman wanted to show the world his skills on a dirt bike. Unfortunately for fans of more moderate Republicans, the electorate was never really interested in Huntsman or his bike.

Herman Cain is smoking

They were probably smoking something when they came up with the idea for this Herman Cain ad. In this short web ad, chief of staff Mark Block talked about why he thought the Georgia businessman was the right choice for the White House—then he took a long drag from his cigarette. The smoking garnered more attention than Cain’s message, and the ad spurred many spinoffs (including this one from Jon Huntsman’s daughters).

Rick Perry’s weak moment

It was called “Strong,” but Rick Perry’s December 2011 ad was anything but. With the Iowa Caucus just weeks away, the Texas governor was hoping to appeal to social conservatives by talking about the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In the end, it drew more hatred than votes. The video resulted in dozens of spoofs, including this notable one from Fred Karger.

Rick Santorum slings mud

In early 2012, as many in the GOP were looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum was trying to fill that position. To do that however, he needed to take the former Massachusetts governor down a peg or two and labeling him a “mud slinger” seemed to be the way. Unfortunately for the former Pennsylvania Senator, many people associated the mud with sex columnist Dan Savage’s definition of Santorum.

Fred Karger says sex sells

Fred Karger knew from the beginning that he didn’t have a chance at moving into the White House, he even told the Daily Dot that. More than anything, the openly gay Republican wanted to bring attention to the causes near and dear to him. His commercial “Sexy Frisbee” did just that, and featured a campaign first—two men kissing in a political ad. But it was just a little too racy for YouTube.

Ron Paul’s a big dog

Ron Paul ran for president, again. But unlike previous runs, where he mostly flew under the radar, the Texas Republican made waves during the 2012, thanks in part to some splashy ads on YouTube. Including one that compared the rest of the presidential field to “little Shih Tzus.”

Obama gets into the mix

With more than 2,800 videos, it’s no surprise that President Obama would have a few memorable ones from this election cycle. Although perhaps two of the most important YouTube clips have been from the past few weeks.

When Obama didn’t do well during the first debate, his campaign jumped on one of Romney’s few missteps of the night: calling out Big Bird. Romney’s plan to cut funding for public television was perfect fodder for an ad. And just this past week, Obama made a move for the youth vote by dispatching Girls star Lena Dunham to talk about her “first time.” The ad’s sexual metaphor was heavily criticized by socially conservative Republicans.

Photo via Herman Cain/YouTube

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*First Published: Oct 30, 2012, 9:00 am