Politicians and presidential candidates have long complained about "gotcha" questions
But there is a fine line between a "gotcha" question and a straight up gaffe that reflects a lack of knowledge
“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?’”
This memorable response comes from from 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was asked by Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody in October 2011 if he was ready for the inevitable “gotcha” questions on foreign policy that come from the media.
Politicians and presidential candidates have long complained about them, but there is a fine line between a “gotcha” question and a straight up gaffe that reflects a lack of knowledge when it comes to pressing issues.
Roger Stone, a former Donald Trump adviser and Republican Political consultant, told The Daily Caller that a “gotcha” question is “a knowledge question in which the moderator attempts to make the person … look stupid,” adding, “I think it is more like saying to Donald Trump, you know: ‘How many members of the U.S. House of Representatives [are there]?’”
Here’s a look at some questions that were characterized as “gotcha” moments:
Who is the leader of ISIS?
This week, Trump stumbled when asked about the heads of major terrorist organizations by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Trump slammed Hewitt, calling his line of questioning a “gotcha question.”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” to be asked about who leads Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Nusra and ISIS, Trump said Thursday, and added that he is a “delegator” who will “find great people” who are experts on these matters if elected.
Is President Obama a Christian?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked “Is President Obama a Christian?” in an interview by The Washington Post in February, to which he responded, “I don’t know.”
When he was reminded that Obama has often brought up his Christian faith, Walker said “I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that. I’ve never asked him that,” Walker said, adding, “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”
Walker slammed the press and said this is not an issue that Americans care about, adding that “You could ask 100 people” in Wisconsin and “not one of them would say that this is a significant issue.”
Would you attend a same-sex wedding?
After the Supreme Court of the United States declared same-sex marriage legal nationwide in June, some Republican presidential candidates denounced the decision. However, a popular line of questioning became whether a candidate who opposes the highest court’s decision would be willing to attend a same-sex wedding.
Some candidates, including Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who oppose same-sex marriage, said they would or already have attended a same-sex wedding.
However, when asked by Hewitt if it was more important to know “if a candidate for the presidency will attend a gay wedding, or whether he or she will destroy the Islamic State,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said “There’s no doubt the latter does, but it’s part of the gotcha game the mainstream media plays, where they come after Republicans on every front.”
Cruz said this question is “designed to caricature Republicans, to make them look stupid or evil or crazy or extreme,” adding that he has not yet faced the “circumstance” of being invited to a same-sex ceremony.
Did you change your stance on same-sex marriage for political reasons?
In an edgy exchange with NPR reporter Terry Gross, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton pushed back when asked whether she changed her public position on same-sex marriage based on “political calculations.”
“What’s it like when you’re in office to be able to do those political calculations?” Gross asked.
“I think you are trying to say that I used to be opposed and now I am in favor and I did it for political reasons,” Clinton fired back, “And that’s just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like I think you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue and I am proud of what I’ve done and the progress we’re making.”
But Clinton’s stance on same-sex marriage has evolved over the years. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which defined for federal purposes marriage between one man and one woman. As a senator, Clinton backed civil unions and partner benefits for same-sex couples, and came out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2013, shortly before the Court struck down a key provision of the 1996 law.
What’s your favorite Bible verse?
Last month, Trump, who had repeatedly cited the Bible as his favorite book, was asked by Bloomberg to share his favorite Bible verse.
“I wouldn’t want to get into it. Because to me, that’s very personal. The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” Trump said. Afterwards, he was pressed on his religious beliefs by the media for declining to share his favorite verse.
Sarah Plain, a long-time supporter of Trump, jumped to his defense.
Palin interviewed Trump on the conservative cable news network One America News Network and slammed the question as a “gotcha question.”
“Frankly, I don’t know if they’re fair questions or not fair questions,” Trump said.
What newspapers do you read?
Palin knows a thing or two about so-called “gotcha” questions herself.
In an infamous interview with Katie Couric in September 2008, the then-vice presidential candidate, whose foreign policy credentials were questioned, was asked, “What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this – to stay informed and to understand the world?”
Palin declined to name one single newspaper.
“I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press,” she said, and when pressed further, she added, “Um, all of them, any of them that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years … I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country.”
How does Alaska’s proximity to Russia enhance your foreign policy cred?
Couric also asked Palin about the time she “cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience.”
“What did you mean by that?” Couric asked.
Palin explained that Alaska has a “very narrow maritime border between a foreign country” and when pressed about how Alaska’s geographic location enhances her foreign policy credentials, Palin said, “Well, it certainly does because … our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of,” adding that Alaska and Russia “have trade missions back and forth.”
Name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan.
In 1999, then-Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush was asked to name the leaders of four current world hot spots: Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. He could only name the leader of Taiwan.
“I guess we know that ‘C’ at Yale was a gentleman’s ‘C,’” said then-Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.
Karen Hughes, the Bush campaign communications director, slammed the question and said “The person who is running for president is seeking to be the leader of the free world, not a Jeopardy contestant.”