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The Top 10 "shark-jumping" moments of the 2012 election

From "47 percent" to "oops" to "you didn't build that," the 2012 campaign was full of memorable moments that arguably changed the trajectory and rhetoric of the presidential race, influencing conversations about the role of government, the essentials of leadership, and the direction of the country.

Aaaaaand then there was all the other stuff.

The first campaign in which ideological scuffles were waged on Twitter, the 2012 race was noteworthy for its moments of pure silliness, when there was little observers could do except use their 140-character allotments for snarky pronouncements like "#headdesk."

So, with apologies to the Happy Days episode that birthed the phrase "to jump the shark," here's our list of the Top 10 "shark-jumping" political moments of 2012:

10. The Drudge Report floats Petraeus for VP.  Despite overwhelming evidence -- even more overwhelming in retrospect -- that the now-resigned CIA director was hardly a slam-dunk to be on the GOP ticket, reporters scurried frantically to shoot down a Drudge Report siren floating Gen. David Petraeus for Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick. The news was sourced to "a top fundraiser" who heard it "whispered" by Barack Obama. The Romney-aligned conservative news hub suggested the once-revered general (who resigned after the election in the wake of revelations of an extra-marital affair) after it plugged an exclusive scoop on the implausible pick of Condi Rice for the job.

Martin Bashir asks whether the penguin who bit zoo fanatic Newt Gingrich was possibly one of his many creditors.

9. Newt Gingrich is bitten by a penguin at the zoo. While technically still a presidential candidate -- but long after the sheen of his surprise January victory in the South Carolina GOP primary had faded -- it wasn't unusual to hear tales of Newt Gingrich's passion for zoology during the spring of 2012. An April incident at the San Diego Zoo offered LOL-worthy headlines when the former speaker was nipped on the finger by a Magellanic penguin. Hounded for confirmation, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond dutifully vowed that the Band-Aid-prompting injury would not end the candidate's love of animals, saying "Newt is a zoo fan. He will be back."

Despite being a fan of "Big Bird," GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney proposed cutting federal funding of public television, setting off criticism and quips.

8. Everyone meta-argues about Big Bird. Asked during the first presidential debate for areas where he would cut federal spending, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney pointed to the (relatively minuscule) funds received by PBS, even while asserting earnestly that "I like Big Bird." After a particularly lackluster debate performance by President Obama, the statement offered Romney foes a welcome peg for attacks, including a parody ad in which the goofy avian puppet was derided as a "big, yellow, a menace to our economy." Republicans, in turn ridiculed the Obama campaign's fixation with the Sesame Street protagonist as frivolous, and an exasperated PBS requested that the ad be taken down.

7. A stop at Chick-Fil-A becomes a political act. Liberal lovers of waffle fries faced a difficult choice this summer when Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy voiced criticism of same-sex marriage. While Mitt Romney didn't bite, other Republican politicians leveraged the story, flocking to the fast-food joint to show their support for Cathy's socially conservative views. Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and then-VP hopeful Tim Pawlenty all publicly backed the franchise that launched the "Eat Mor Chikin" campaign, while some Democratic pols threatened to keep new stores from opening and pilloried the restaurant with labels like "hate chicken." The chain later - ahem -- "waffled" on its stance, agreeing to stop funding groups that fight same-sex marriage.

While courting Hispanic voters on Univision, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a new message after saying he stood by his beliefs about the "47 percent." NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

6. Romney not-really-jokingly laments not being Latino. The "47 percent" remarks were the enduring headline out of Mitt Romney's leaked fundraiser remarks, but the nominee also raised some eyebrows when he joked to attendees that he would have been much more likely to win the presidency if his father had been Mexican. "He was born in Mexico… and had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot at winning this," Romney said to reported crickets from the audience of donor heavyweights. "But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico. He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.” Si se puede!

5. The Trump "October surprise." Remember this? Donald Trump sent the Twitter machine into a frenzy after he promised a "revelation" that would derail the president's re-election efforts. The rumor mill indicated that the bombshell could be some kind of divorce records from Obama's past, a claim which turned out to be far more potentially interesting than Trump's actual revelation -- which was to offer $5 million to the charity of Obama's choice in exchange for the president's college and passport records. The news dud served to remind voters of Romney's tortured embrace of the coiffed billionaire in a February endorsement, which Romney accepted by deadpanning, "There are some things you can't imagine ever happening in your life. This is one of them."

4. Spandexed Rick Perry tweets he's staying in 2012 race. The morning after the Iowa caucuses, political reporters and Perry staff were making arrangements to attend the Texas governor's inevitable dropout press conference when a tweet from the governor's official account pictured Perry in running attire giving a thumbs up -- with the text "Here we come South Carolina!!!" Some close aides initially believed the vow to stay in the race was a hoax. Frazzled reporters chased the candidate to a hotel hallway where they got their first in-person confirmation of the news from Perry's wife Anita, in the form of her declaration that "I LOVE grits!"

3. Joe Biden poses with biker chick. Relentlessly parodied as a dopey muscle-car enthusiast by joke newspaper The Onion, Vice President Joe Biden finally appeared to be merging with his own caricature when he tried to make friends with a trio of bikers at an Ohio diner. The result: an AP photo of Biden nuzzling a grinning female rider as two male companions looked on with impossible-to-describe-in-print facial expressions of annoyance, disbelief and wonderment. (It didn't help that the photo was published within hours of a picture of a Barack Obama being aerially bear-hugged by a large Florida admirer.)

Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood speaks at the RNC Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

2. Eastwooding. After his appearance in a stark, full page pro-Chrysler ad dubbed "Halftime in America," some Republicans accused Clint Eastwood of being an Obama backer. That presumably gave the gravelly-voiced star's endorsement of Mitt Romney even more heft going in to the Republican National Convention, when no organizers questioned the famous "Dirty Harry" actor as to exactly what he might say on stage. Republicans, along with a primetime audience of millions, looked on with (at best) bewildered amusement and (at worst) horror as Eastwood wandered around the stage spouting insults at an empty chair meant to symbolize the president. Eastwood later admitted -- in the biggest scoop to date for his hometown paper The Carmel Pine Cone -- that he came up with the idea to malign available furniture while in the green room before the speech. "[The Romney team] vets most of the people, but I told them, ‘You can’t do that with me, because I don’t know what I’m going to say,’” Eastwood recalled to the Pine Cone.

Former Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., D-Tenn., Republican strategist Mike Murphy, and NBC News' Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd discuss how the Obama and Romney campaigns responded to the comments Hilary Rosen made about Ann Romney's lack of employment during her life.

1. The "war on women." Little did Hilary Rosen know when she dinged Ann Romney's career choices on CNN that she was touching off a seven-month battle that would be dubbed by both sides as a partisan "war on women." “His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” said Rosen, a political consultant who advises the Democratic National Committee, launching a rhetorical spitball/Twitter war that continued in various incarnations until  Election Day. Obama campaign aides scrambled to condemn the remark as Ann Romney shot back that she “made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

That opening volley continued through the end of the campaign, with Republicans and Democrats each painting the other group as baby-hating suffrage opponents eager to confine the brightest of women to lady-prisons of convenient stereotypes.

Both sides pointed to issues ranging from the arguably legitimate (economic policies affecting families, contraceptive policies) to the unrepeatable (Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut")  to the absurd (demanding that the other side disown the endorsement of a musical artist with unpleasant lyrics about women.)

The silliness may have been best encapsulated by Reince Priebus, who described the back-and-forth thusly: "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars."

For which he had to apologize.