During an interview with Fox News on Sunday (which re-aired on Monday), official 2012 GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann had some high praise for fellow Waterloo, Iowa native and legendary actor John Wayne:
"I want them to know just like John Wayne is from Waterloo Iowa, that's the spirit I have too," Bachmann said. "It's embracing America. It's sacrificing for America."
You can watch the remarks below, where it's clear to even the interviewer who Bachmann is referring to (at about the 2:35 mark):
But there's only one problem. The actor John Wayne is not from Waterloo. Rather, he was born 150 miles, and nearly three hours, away in Winterset. There was, however, a notorious John Wayne who had some history in Waterloo (although born in Chicago): serial killer John Wayne Gacy.*
Some outlets quickly picked up on the gaffe. Talking Points Memo, a liberal publication, used the remarks to attack Bachmann's researchers.
"The Bachmann campaign staff might want to double-check their Google searches. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who on Monday launched her presidential campaign in her original hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, appears to be just a bit confused about the town's history of favorite sons," it writes.
But the remarks weren't only a liberal gotcha moment. The normally conservative Washington Times refrained from pointing blame, but it was the first outlet to note the mistake:
Rep. Michele Bachmann kicked off her presidential campaign on Monday in Waterloo, Iowa, and in one interview surrounding the official event she promised to mimic the spirit of Waterloo's own John Wayne.
The only problem, as one eagle-eyed reader notes: Waterloo's John Wayne was not the beloved movie star, but rather John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.
So how could she make such a mistake? Was it a research problem as TPM suggests? Did she just get clouded by local folklore? There does seem to be somewhat of an explanation. According to a statement from Bachmann's campaign, actor John Wayne's parents did live in Waterloo before Wayne's birth. ABC News confirmed that story:
And a little internet research proves that point correct.
According to the book “Duke: We’re Glad We Knew You” by Herb Fagen, Clyde and Molly Morrison - actor John Wayne’s parents – lived in Waterloo early in their marriage – but they moved to Winterset before the birth of son Marion Mitchell Morrison (he changed his name to John Wayne professionally).
So, is this a major problem for Bachmann? James Fallows over at the Atlantic doesn't seem to think so. Especially since something similar reportedly once happened to conservative hero Ronald Reagan. He points to a section in a 1994 obituary about Tip O'Neill:
Welcoming newly elected President Reagan to his Capitol office, O'Neill pointed out that he had Grover Cleveland's desk. Reagan brightened and said he'd played the man in the movies. O'Neill was talking about a Democratic president; Reagan thought he meant Grover Cleveland Alexander, a legendary turn-of-the-century ballplayer. "Welcome to the big leagues," O'Neill told Reagan. Tip swore the tale was true.
"This reinforces the point I made a little while ago: the way Bachmann can show she is a pro is by joining the hearty laughter about her incredible 'what are the odds?' error rather than getting defensive," Fallows writes. "Which is the way you can imagine Reagan having handled it. This has made Bachmann's first day on the campaign trail an unexpectedly interesting test of her demeanor and resiliency. (And, yes, I do realize that Reagan was already in office by the time this occurred. But he'd done similar things earlier.)"
Gacy, who was caught in 1979, was convicted of 33 murders in 1980. He was executed in Illinois in 1994 and one would hope doesn't have the "spirit" Bachmann wants to emulate. And it's safe to assume she doesn't.
But it's also safe to assume that after officially entering the race, all her words will be picked apart endlessly, and any little slip-up will become major headlines.What will define her isn't the mistake but, as Fallows writes, how she handles it.
As reader POORRICHARDSNEWS points out, NY Mag has taken to outright smearing Bachmann. The magazine published a picture online of Bachmann in clown makeup. Gacy, you might remember, was notorious for dressing up like a clown:
*This story originally noted that Gacy was born in Waterloo. He was actually born in Chicago but called Waterloo home for a little while. We have updated the story.