6 Presidential Campaign Slogans That Fell Flat

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Political campaign slogans haven’t always caught on. In fact, some have proven odd or embarrassing.

Puns, rhymes and catchy phrases do remarkably well in United States presidential campaigns, even if they seem a little cheesy. After succeeding Warren G. Harding when he died in office, Calvin Coolidge won the 1926 election using the slogan “Keep Cool with Coolidge.” Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 slogan, “I Like Ike,” was so popular that one of his 1956 reelection slogans was “I Still Like Ike.”

“What’s [‘I Like Ike’] actually say about his policies? Nothing, but it’s cute,” says Julia Abramoff, publisher and director of editorial at Apollo Publishers, which recently released Words to Win By: The Slogans, Logos, and Designs of America’s Presidential Elections. Historically, popular presidential slogans focus more on being short, pithy and memorable than on articulating a candidate’s policy position.

WATCH: ‘The Presidents’ on HISTORY Vault

Yet sometimes, these attempts to be cute verge on awkward. In 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s opponent, Alf Landon, used slogans like “Let’s Make It a Landon-Slide” and “Land on Washington.” When Thomas Dewey challenged FDR in 1944, his slogans included “Well, Dewey or Don’t We” and “We Are DUE for a Change.” Dewey ran for president again in 1948, this time urging voters to “Dew It with Dewey” (ultimately, they did it with Harry Truman).

Below are some more questionable presidential slogans in U.S. history.

1. ‘It’s Nothing but Fair to Leave Taft in the Chair’

William Howard Taft stands on a flag-draped platform to campaign for his election to the presidency.

William Howard Taft won the 1908 presidential election with the help of strong support from the outgoing president and fellow Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. By the 1912 election, Roosevelt had turned against him and formed the Progressive Party (or “Bull Moose Party”) to run for a third term. This made Taft’s second presidential campaign more challenging, especially for a man already averse to campaigning.

Taft “had a sense that Americans hated him,” says Margaret Kaplan, an editorial assistant at Apollo Publishers who worked on Words to Win By. “He hated being on the campaign trail, he always wanted to be golfing in his free time, he didn’t like working very much… His slogans, they make me chuckle because it’s like he doesn’t even want it.”

One of Taft’s slogans, “It’s Nothing but Fair to Leave Taft in the Chair,” seems to say: vote for Taft, he’s already president. Campaign buttons, ribbons and ads identified him “The Safest” choice, asked “Why Change?” and claimed Taft “Deserves a Second Term” (as opposed to Roosevelt, who sought a third). His lackluster campaign earned him only 23 percent of the popular vote, putting him in third place behind runner-up Roosevelt and Democratic winner Woodrow Wilson.

READ MORE: How Woodrow Wilson Tried to Reverse Black American Progress

2. ‘Make Your Wet Dreams Come True’

Al Smith, American politician and governor of New York, pictured in his office in the Empire State Building.

In 1928, New York Governor Al Smith became the first Catholic to run for president on a major party ticket. Smith was a Democrat and a “wet” candidate, meaning he opposed Prohibition. This issue wasn’t just about wanting to drink legally again: The national alcohol ban was deeply rooted in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant biases, and the newly refounded Ku Klux Klan used it as an excuse to terrorize Catholic immigrants across the country.

READ MORE: How Prohibition Fueled the Rise of the Ku Klux Klan

The slogan “Make Your Wet Dreams Come True” referred to the fact that Smith wanted to end Prohibition. But was the sexual innuendo in the slogan intentional? According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of “wet dream” was in 1851. The phrase meant back then what it still means today—which means that yes, Smith’s campaign may have known what it was doing.

Smith lost the election to Republican Herbert Hoover, who’d campaigned on the promise of “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage.” Yet four years later, Hoover’s slogans would become much more tepid.

3. ‘Play Safe with Hoover’

Herbert Hoover speaking at Parkersburg, West Virginia en route to Indianapolis for a major campaign speech, October 29, 1932.

During the first year of Hoover’s presidency, the stock market crashed and the United States fell into the Great Depression. Hoover’s popularity plummeted as shanty towns, nicknamed “Hoovervilles,” sprung up to shelter jobless and homeless Americans.

In the midst of this, 1932 reelection slogans like “Play Safe with Hoover” or “We Are Turning the Corner” probably didn’t inspire confidence. One pro-Hoover ad showed Uncle Sam riding an elephant through water and shooing away a donkey, and urged voters: “Don’t Change Now.” This ad referenced Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 reelection slogan during the Civil War, “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream.”

Again, this probably wasn’t very convincing since, for Hoover, “the stream was flooding and…the pony couldn’t really trot very well,” Kaplan says. “And then you have a challenger with so much momentum in FDR,” who used the popular tune “Happy Days Are Here Again” as his campaign song. (No, this isn’t the theme song from Happy Days, but the TV show will make an appearance later in this article.)

READ MORE: How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War

4. ‘Adlai and Estes—The Bestest’

Presidential election badge for Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, 1952.

Democrat Adlai Stevenson actually had a pretty catchy slogan the first time he ran against Eisenhower in 1952. It was “All the Way with Adlai,” a slogan that Lyndon B. Johnson successfully adapted in 1964 when he asked voters to go “All the Way with LBJ.”

When Stevenson ran against Eisenhower again in 1956, he continued to use “All the Way with Adlai,” but he also used some more awkward slogans. His campaign song was “We’re Madly for Adlai,” and a button showing him and his running-mate Estes Kefauver identified them as “Adlai and Estes—The Bestest.”

Despite some serious questions about Eisenhower’s health and Vice President Richard Nixon’s ability to take over as president, Eisenhower beat Stevenson a second time.

5. ‘In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right’

A “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right” and “YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) Backs Barry” campaign buttons from Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign, 1964. 

The Republican candidate for president in 1964 was Barry Goldwater, a conservative whose gimmicky campaign buttons often read “Au H20” (“Au” for gold, “H20” for water). Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was described by Democrats and opponents within his own party as a leader of right-wing extremists. His campaign slogan, “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right,” was interpreted as a nod to extremist views, suggesting that he was only saying what others believed.

“He had five other slogans that he was testing out, and this one tested the worst out of all of them, but he was so committed to it,” Kaplan says. Goldwater insisted on using the slogan that tested so poorly, and it “immediately garnered critiques…because it was a concession of his extremism.”

LBJ’s campaign responded with its own slogan about Goldwater: “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts.” That November, Goldwater lost in a landslide.

6. ‘Happy Days Are Here Again [With] Fordzie’

Accompanied by supporter John Wayne, President Ford addresses a crowd from atop his limousine during the final stretch of the campaign October 24, 1976 in Fountain Valley, California. 

Gerald Ford had a lot against him as the Republican presidential candidate in 1976. Ford’s campaign slogan “He’s Making Us Proud Again” was an awkward acknowledgment of Nixon’s corruption, and a reminder that Ford had pardoned him. His efforts to address the economic and energy crises fell flat, too. Critics poked fun at his campaign buttons, which told voters to “WIN”—i.e., “Whip Inflation Now.”

READ MORE: How American Presidents Ended Up With the ‘Kingly’ Power to Pardon

Pro-Ford buttons like “A Used Ford Is Better Than a New Carter” also failed to find a catchy way to talk about him or his opponent Jimmy Carter. Probably the most embarrassing example is a button referencing the Happy Days character The Fonz. The pin, which says “Happy Days Are Here Again,” shows Ford dressed up like Fonzie, and calls him “Fordzie.”

Nixon had appointed Ford as his vice president in 1973 after Spiro Agnew resigned over tax evasion, meaning that the 1976 election was the first one in which Ford was on the ballot for president or vice president. Because Ford lost to Carter, Ford is only president in U.S. history who was never elected to either of the executive offices in which he served.

READ MORE: 7 Firsts in US Presidential Election History

America 101: Why Do Presidential Campaigns Use Slogans? (TV-PG; 1:22)

WATCH: America 101: Why Do Presidential Campaigns Use Slogans?

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