Gregg Abbott, Meg Whitman, Billy Long and More Politicians Who Fail At Twitter

A minor Twitter firestorm erupted last weekend when a Twitter supporter of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott referred to State Sen. Wendy Davis as “Retard Barbie,” urging Abbott to “demolish” her. Abbott, who’s announced his run for governor and may end up facing Davis in the race, unwisely decided to re-tweet that comment and thank the tweeter in question for his support.

Predictable outrage followed, and while it will likely blow over, the controversy was completely avoidable.

It’s indicative of the double-edged sword that Twitter can be for elected officials. While it’s an invaluable resource for any number of political purposes, a lot of politicians either fail to grasp how public every tweet is or, in some cases, simply don’t understand how the service works. Abbott’s was not the first political Twitter fail, and surely won’t be the last. Here are some more memorable political Twitter fails:

Rep. Billy Long

It’s not unusual for a politician to make headlines with pop culture references, but a degree of tact and timing is advised. Long displayed neither when, shortly after Amy Winehouse’s death, the congressman compared her demise to Washington’s out of control spending, or something like that.

The strained and confusing comparison (which Long made before Winehouse was even buried) drew a negative response right out of the gate, and he was quickly forced to apologize.

Steve Lonegan

A couple of weeks ago, while proceeding steadily towards what will likely be a crushing defeat at the hands of Cory Booker, Lonegan landed in hot water after his Senate campaign tweeted the following image, purportedly of Booker’s debate notes.

The image shows a map of New Jersey, with different regions labeled “West Africa, Guyana, Portugal,” and so on (because Booker is half-black, see). Lonegan quickly deleted the tweet and said it didn’t reflect his feelings, but added, in his defense, that “[n]obody ever accused Cory Booker of being racist when he said Newark is like the Middle East."

Rep. Steve Cohen

Cohen is no stranger to Twitter attention. After firing off some of affectionate tweets during last year’s State of the Union, he set off a series of events that ended in him discovering that a woman he’d thought was his daughter... actually was not. While we’d hesitate to call that a “controversy,” it did soon result in one.

It’s hard to decipher, but the gist of it is that Cohen met a black tow truck driver, and started chatting about his various trials and tribulations. Upon hearing of the congressman’s troubles — a surprising paternity test, a broken-down old car — the driver jokingly said, “you’re black.” Many interpreted this anecdote as an endorsement of negative black stereotypes, so Cohen explained the situation and, in doing so, made matters a little worse.

“I hear it in Memphis all the time. My constituents don’t look at me as a white person, they say, ‘You’re one of us,’” Cohen said. “Blacks can and do embrace me as their congressperson.”

That may be true, but it’s also the kind of claim that’s better made about you by somebody else than proudly self-applied as a badge of honor.

Meg Whitman

Whitman’s 2010 gubernatorial race was probably doomed to fail from the beginning, but an errant tweet from her campaign made matters humorously worse. In an attempt to diminish opponent (and ultimate victor) Jerry Brown’s credibility, Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei tweeted a link to an endorsement from the San Diego Deputy Sherrif’s Organization — or at least, that was the intent.

The problem was that Pompei accidentally omitted the last digit of the URL when she pasted it into Twitter. Because she’d used the immensely popular URL shortener bit.ly, she inadvertently ended up linking to something entirely different—specifically, a video of a Japanese man in a tutu playing bass guitar (with a good amount of talent, we might add).

H.J.Freaks on YouTube

While the episode was slightly embarrassing to the Whitman campaign, the winner was surely the man in that video, who received an unexpected amount of traffic from unusual sources and can now brag about his two million-plus YouTube views.

Todd Kincannon

Where to start with this guy? He used to be chairman of the South Carolina GOP, but state Republicans denounced him after he decided to live-tweet the Super Bowl.

He also dropped the c-bomb on Nancy Pelosi, and had some harsh words for a liberal Iraq war veteran.

The issue here wasn't as much that Kincannon was in a position of power — he wasn't — as the fact that this made national news shortly after the Republican Party announced that it was attempting to rebrand itself as a friendlier party to independents. This, umm, didn't help.

Kincannon also apparently failed to realize Anthony Weiner’s Twitter tale was a cautionary one, not a how-to, but that’s another story completely. He stubbornly refused to apologize for his tweets, and is in fact still tweeting today.

Sen. Chuck Grassley

Grassley’s largely incoherent tweets are political wonder in and of themselves, and often gain more national attention than the Iowa Senator’s legislative actions. He has often pocket-tweeted, but even when he intentionally composes a message in full, the results are often difficult to interpret.

Note in that last example that Grassley sent the original tweet, then responded to it by posting a link back to his own Twitter account.

Grassley also opposes the History Channel, which he feels isn’t sufficiently focused on actual history.

It seems things ultimately did get better.

And lest you believe the tweets are the result of a hapless aid or staffer...