A Brief History of Political Podium Scandals

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

It was the wobble felt around the world.

Well—at least by a room of Minnesota Republicans who watched Donald Trump’s podium teeter during a speech Friday night. And, of course, the 450,000-some X-users who came upon a clip of Trump swaying on stage courtesy of a Biden-Harris campaign account that’s seeking to cast the former president as over-the-hill.

As Trump delivered a speech to the annual Minnesota GOP dinner, a budget-looking podium buckled as he leaned forward to make a point. An exasperated Trump then teed off, bemoaning that the “freaking place is falling down” and chiding that the lectern was tilting further and further left like “too many other things.”

But Trump isn’t the only politician with a podium problem. The Daily Beast has you covered—lest you forget the time the presidential seal fell off former President Barack Obama’s lectern, or another instance when a podium-themed X account trolled Trump back in 2016.

Welcome to your guide to the most cringeworthy podium dramas in recent memory.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Podiumgate

The official Wikipedia page for the list of “-gate scandals and controversies”—yes, that’s a real entry—bestows the title of “podiumgate” to a spending snafu by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R).

Last year, Sanders’ office oversaw the purchase of a custom-made $19,029.25 lectern. The buy from a Virginia-based events company with ties to Sanders, was made with taxpayer dollars from a state-issued credit card and later reimbursed by the Arkansas GOP. (A spokesperson for Sanders later called the use of the official credit card an “accounting error.”)

With its eye-popping price-tag, scrutiny around the unadorned blue podium with wood paneling exploded, prompting the governor’s office to parade the lectern out for public viewing. Though it looked plain, Sanders said the podium was made to her specifications, designed to “get the best sound quality” and ideal for her 5’ 4” frame.

An official audit of the podium purchase—requested by the Arkansas state legislature—released last month noted seven areas of potential noncompliances with Arkansas state law by the governor’s office, including buying the podium as an operating expense when it failed to meet criteria, shredding a bill of lading, and altering a public record.

According to the report, that $19,000 sticker included a $2,500 consulting fee which may have been a savvy investment—as Trump displayed on Friday, there’s nothing worse than a flimsy podium.

Sanders doesn’t seem phased by the audit report. She clapped back on X with a satirical hype video for the podium. The video closed with a statement more often used in conservative circles to defend gun rights, “Come and take it.”

President Barack Obama’s tricked out campaign launch podium

When Obama launched his 2007 presidential bid in Springfield, Illinois on a frigid February day, he wanted to project strength and warmth.

So the then-senator got a little help from a heater tucked into his Obama-branded blue podium.

With temperatures down in the single digits, the heater positioned by Obama’s feet was so effective that the future president didn’t even need to wear gloves. The audience reportedly couldn’t see the heater during Obama’s speech allowing him to project a superman facade while his prospective voters shivered.

“I wasn’t too cold,” Obama told The New York Times.

Once he assumed the Oval Office, Obama had another major run-in with a podium. Speaking at Fortune Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women Summit” in 2010, the presidential seal slid off Obama’s lectern.

“Whoops,” Obama said as the seal clanged at his feet.

But the reliably suave 44th commander in chief played off the blunder with a smile.

“It’s alright,” he said. “All of you know who I am.”

Trump’s menacing empty podium

Though a lectern bested Trump on Friday, he’s also mastered the art of turning the podium into a political prop.

Trump placed an empty podium on stage ahead of an April rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin meant to symbolize President Joe Biden’s prospective place on a debate stage.

“This is for Joe Biden. I am trying to get him to debate,” Trump taunted. “Trying to get Crooked Joe to debate. Anytime, anyplace.”

In response, a Biden spokesperson quipped that "Trump said last fall only people who are losing want debates. At least we agree on something.”

It’s unlikely that Trump’s podium gambit alone did much to shame Biden onto the debate stage. But since the stunt, Biden has agreed to tangle with Trump in June and August in what are sure to be blockbuster showdowns hosted by CNN and ABC. (The networks did not reply to a question from The Daily Beast about whether podiums will appear on the debate stage.)

But as Friday proved, podiums haven’t always been kind to Trump. A 2016 X account anthropomorphizing Trump’s empty podium on debate and rally stages took aim at the then-wannabe president.

“I might be standing in front of The Donald but that doesn't mean I stand with him,” the podium’s X biography said.

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