14 Worst Pandering Moments in Modern Election History

From Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton, a shorthand list of the worst political pandering moments in modern history.

pandering moment pull up and vote image

Pull Up & Vote: The Worst Pandering Moments in Political History

pandering moment pull up and vote image

Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and progressives all engage in the shrew vote-getting tactic of pandering. A uniquely dubious notion, names such as Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren have littered American political history with advantageous positions in order to persuade voters. The politically dexterous—like Barack Obama—are able to avoid these predicaments, but most use this as an opportunity to root themselves in the thoughts of the average American citizen.

To think that a Harvard Law professor or a former District Attorney or even a lifelong career politician can speak for a community that grows more marginalized and destitute each political season is simply not true. On what grounds can either Donald Trump or Joe Biden talk about racism or police brutality that happens in America? If Americans were to match their words with their deeds, both candidates would come up lacking. While voters want their president to “say it with their chest,” we are not props for political campaigns and empty rhetoric.

Despite what political candidates say, their actions can usually come to light on political watch sites. This is precisely why we want to drain the swamp (so to speak) in sharing the worst pandering moments in election history and educate young voters on code language candidates use to reward themselves come election day. — Kevin L. Clark

After being introduced by Luis Fonsi, Joe Biden pulled out his phone and started playing Despacito ahead of his remarks kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month in Kissimmee, FL. pic.twitter.com/7R6hUZgLW1

— Sarah Mucha (@sarahmucha) September 16, 2020

While both candidates are actively courting the Latinx vote, Biden decided to go to a tried-and-true move of a politician’s playbook. At an address in Florida, the man known as “Tio Joe” became remembered more for his opening music number than the content of his speech. The former vice president engaged in a viral moment of “Hispandering” when he pulled out his phone and played “Despacito,” the 2017 reggaeton smash hit. With the exception of this cringe-inducing attempt at being relatable, Biden has been markedly absent in the Latinx community. —Kevin L. Clark


Elizabeth Warren

For decades, Senator Warren prided herself on being Native American. She even publicly posted her DNA test for the world to see. The only problem was that she’s not Native American and her harmful assertion undermined the culture and struggle of actual Indigenous people. There was no better time for her to make amends than during the current election season. Warren preceded her bid for presidency with a private apology to the Cherokee Nation. That, good folks, is called damage control. —Manseen Logan

The current vice presidential nominee was “laced up and ready to win” when she stepped off her PJ and into a wave of online cheers and boos, in what might have been the first true sartorial scandal of the 2020 election. Harris, whose love for Chuck Taylors is no secret, attempted to pander with her footwear when she wore a pair of Timberland boots as she surveyed the damage caused by the Creek Fire in California. Is she doing this to prove how much of a ’Pac fan she is or to make a lame attempt at not looking like a cop? —Kevin L. Clark

Trump with Bible

It’s been nearly four years since Trump took office, and he’s racked up countless moments of shameless pandering. From appearing to offer zombies government jobs in Pittsburgh to playing Trump the Truck Driver while discussing health care with trucking CEOs, this president has no problem doing the most for his votes. One of the most recent pandering acts took place across the street from the White House at St. John’s Church. In the midst of protests for social justice following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, Trump tried to gain favor with Americans by posing for a photo-op with a Bible in front of the nearby church. Whether or not he actually reads the Bible is still up for debate, but what better way to appease part of his base—white Christian America? —Manseen Logan

I knew the Bougie Black Elite wasn’t on our side when they let this shit happen without recourse. What was this?!?!!!! We don’t talk about it enough. pic.twitter.com/Y0dQCT3Y8G

— AshleyStevens (@The_Acumen) October 5, 2020

Dr. Umar Johnson would’ve been happy to join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats to bring hotep-ery as a visual stunt to the masses. Alongside Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and other members of Congress, Speaker Pelosi introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 swathed in identical kente stoles. In an attempt to pander to the Black American constituency for police reform, Pelosi and co. made themselves a mockery for a photo op that meant little in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and Breonna Taylor. —Kevin L. Clark

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It seems as though West might be in a real-life Get Out situation. The Chi-Town rapper, producer, and designer is now leading the newly established Birthday Party as a third-party presidential candidate. It’s not clear who his target voters are, but with narratives like “slavery was a choice” and his political rant against Harriet Tubman,  it feels as though an ignorant privileged white man has taken over a formerly revered Black man’s body to pander to the “racism doesn’t exist” crowd. —Manseen Logan

The famous @BarackObama Team USA handshake. (2012) pic.twitter.com/zSnioeGvKl

— ThrowbackHoops (@ThrowbackHoops) July 5, 2018

The 44th president of the United States is known for his smooth coolness and confident presence whenever he enters the room. No better example of how that could influence others than in 2012, when Obama visited Team USA before a warm-up game against Brazil. His greeting exchange between a white staff member (“Hello, how are you?”) and Kevin Durant (“What’s up, bring it in!”) was turned into a Key & Peele sketch that elevated Obama to the rarefied air of a powerful panderer when need be. —Kevin L. Clark


Today, Gore is known as one of the leading voices in climate change. But back in the ’90s, he was a seasoned politician who worked his way up from the House to the Senate and eventually the Oval Office—as President Bill Clinton’s right hand man. After fulfilling his two-term vice presidency, Gore ran in the 2000 presidential election against George Bush, slipping into what he thought was an African-American accent as he delivered the Good Word at the 2000 NAACP conference. Although Gore was a long-time member of the NAACP, his spirited speech was met with mixed reviews.  —Manseen Logan

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Sadly, it didn’t take much for President Bill Clinton, a white politician from Arkansas, to win the moniker “America’s first Black president." Armed with some black sunglasses and a tenor saxophone, the then-governor visited The Arsenio Hall Show and belted the classic song “Heartbreak Hotel.” The crowd went wild and the rest is history. On the merits of his swag, more than likely, Clinton defeated President George Bush Sr. to become the 42nd President of the United States. Subsequently, Clinton instituted a crime bill that many blame for mass incarceration within the Black community. Sometimes it’s easy to get taken away by the smoke and mirrors. —Manseen Logan

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Speaking Spanish during a political debate isn’t necessarily shocking. However, during the first 2019 Democratic debates, former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke tried to flex his Spanish-speaking skills out of nowhere. The sheer suddenness of his switch from English to Spanish created a meme-worthy glare from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who gave his best attempt at the language later that evening. O’Rourke’s Spanish might have been a bizarre pandering attempt, but it did not distract viewers from the fact that he completely avoided answering the debate question. —Manseen Logan



Before Dr. Ben Carson was spending taxpayers’ racks on a dining set for his office, he had presidential aspirations. Realizing his campaign needed a shot in the arm against the competition, the 64-year-old candidate delivered pure pander-bars over weak-sauce beats to try and appeal to Black American voters. His 60-second, $150,000 radio ad buy, called “Freedom,” aired for two weeks in “Black hub cities” such as Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, and Birmingham. In light of lyrics such as “Heal (vote, vote)/Inspire (vote, vote),” millions cannot wait to return Carson and his chicanery back to the store after November. —Kevin L. Clark

Somewhere the late, great Fred the Godson is shaking his fist at the Biden-Harris ticket for taking pandering to another level in its most recent campaign ad. The two front-runners, who are vying for the “most powerful job in the world,” linked up with Ultimate Rap League to unveil its GOTV (Get Out the Vote) Battle Rap PSA. Featuring DNA and Wild ’N Out star Charlie Clips, the song sees rappers deliver struggle pander-bars in the name of getting the masses out to vote for the odd couple presidential-VP candidates. To quote fellow Complex scribe Keith Nelson Jr., “Doctor Strange could see however many realities he wants; he was never going to land on a reality where he’d see Biden-Harris anywhere near rap battle culture.” — Kevin L. Clark

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When it comes to appealing to their base, Hillary’s pandering is just as legendary as that of her counterpart, Bill Clinton. From dabbing alongside Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show to calling herself “La Hillary” in her own brand of “Hispandering,” the one-time Democratic presidential candidate caught a lot of flak for her “hot sauce in her bag” confession and demonstration. Clinton wasn’t saying that for the two white Beyoncé fans in the back, but to keep Black Americans listening to her instead of the racist joke from 2016 that she was involved in.  —Kevin L. Clark


Romney tried his darndest to relate to Southerners during his 2012 fight for presidency. Apparently, it doesn’t get more Southern than grits. While campaigning in Mississippi, the former Massachusetts governor, who currently represents Utah in the Senate, shared his love for the staple cuisine and expressed his appreciation for the word y’all. He brushed off the awkward confession as “strange things are happening.” Regardless, he won Mississippi. — Manseen Logan

Don’t forget that you can do your part by visiting Complex’s Pull Up & Vote site—where you can double-check your registration, register to vote if you haven’t, and request a mail-in ballot.

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