Halloween for most people means jack-o’-lanterns and trick-or-treaters, “The Great Pumpkin” and the “Treehouse of Horror.” But for many politicians, it is simply another opportunity for a photo op, a feel-good article in the local paper or even a chance to brand your opponent as scarier than this year’s costumes.
In 1992, for example, President George H. W. Bush celebrated Halloween by taking a shot at the then-Democratic nominee for President, Bill Clinton.
“Under him, every day is going to be Halloween: fright and terror,” Bush ominously warned a crowd of about 2,000 people. “Halloween is our opponents’ favorite holiday. They are literally trying to scare America.”
Halloween zingers are not just a thing of the past, however. Just yesterday, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington wrote, “In the GOP race, Rick Perry couldn’t make up his mind [on what to wear for Halloween]. At first he decided to go retro, donning a Steve Forbes-inspired look as Flat Tax Man. But I guess that wasn’t scary enough, so he switched to a more modern — and much creepier — mask: Birther Guy.” (This is a reference to Perry’s recent equivocal comments concerning President Obama’s birth certificate.)
Rick Perry is not the only would-be Republican nominee who is the target of a Halloween-related barb. The New Hampshire Democratic Party, however, released a Halloween-themed statement criticizing Republican Presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney. “Just like Mitt Romney, the hardest part will be choosing Which Mitt you want to be,” the press release says. “There’s Unemployed Mitt, Millionaire Mitt, Middle Class Mitt, Mean Mitt and Career Politician Mitt.”
Not all of the Halloween-related press will be negative, however. President Obama, for one, will shy away from political attacks for at least one day and celebrate the holiday with a standard photo op.
A recent White House press release declared, “President and Mrs. Obama will welcome local children to trick-or-treat at the North Portico of the White House … and the North Lawn will be decorated with ravens, cobwebs, pumpkin urns and branches.”
Furthermore, Politico’s Mike Allen wrote, “Trick-or-treaters at the White House tonight will get little sacks with a White-House-shaped butter cookie, dipped and edged in orange frosting; a box of M&M’s with the presidential seal; and dried fruit, including banana chips, apricots, pineapple and raisins.”
The Obamas are hardly the first First Family to get into the Halloween spirit, however. According to the Huffington Post, “President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush hosted 500 children on Halloween in 1989, loading them up with fun loot but also teaching them about the dangers of drugs. The kids came decked out in costumes; some Secret Service agents came dressed as clowns.
“In the Clintons’ first year in the White House, the Great Pumpkin returned. A huge orange jack-o’-lantern was formed around the front entrance to the White House, with the front door to the mansion serving as the middle tooth. … During the Nixon administration, first daughter Tricia hosted parties for underprivileged children, according to the White House Historical Association. And plenty of other first families got festive for Halloween.”
It is not just politicians who are getting into the Halloween spirit; every-day Americans are donning politics-themed Halloween costumes, as they have for years. Indeed, in 2008, some of the trendiest get-ups included Senator John McCain and then-Senator Obama, as well as Sarah Palin and Tina Fey (in her SNL best, of course). Other 2008 favorites included Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and even a pregnant Bristol Palin.
Halloween circa 2010 also featured numerous political costumes. A broom or cauldron-clad Christine O’Donnell was trendy, as were the White House-crashing Salahis and demon sheep (characters from a viral Senate race advertisement.)
Dressing up as a politician for Halloween may be losing some of its appeal, however, a sentiment mirrored by the record-low approval ratings of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
According to a Clarus Research Group poll, Americans are far more interested in impersonating music, movie and television stars than political figures this year. Lady Gaga is the most costume popular choice among women, with 36 percent saying they would consider wearing a Gaga-related outfit. Only 24 percent are considering dressing like Sarah Palin and just 20 percent would want to be First Lady Michelle Obama for Halloween.
Among men, on the other hand, only 14 percent want to dress up as President Obama, while just 24 percent desire a Donald Trump costume. A solid 46 percent of respondents, however, would consider dressing as the Geico Caveman.
“Politics are a little scary this year, especially when it comes to Halloween,” said Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group. “Is there any political significance that the Obamas ranked third…? Who knows? Perhaps the Geico Caveman should be trick or treating in Iowa or New Hampshire this year.”
Some political costumes, however, never seem to get old. According to Sandra Duraes, manager of Backstage, the Capitol Hill emporium, in the Washington Post, “Nixon [masks are] always a seller for some reason. He’s like a werewolf.”