How did Mitt Romney win the debate? Sure, it could be because his opponent was unprepared and listless. Or it could be because he had a cheat sheet with all the answers on it. Careful video analysis of Romney taking something out of his pocket has revealed, Daily Kos bloggers and others claim, a tiny piece of paper covered with answers. ("OBAMA POLICIES = BAD.")

So what is the object? The Romney campaign says the "cheat sheet" is just a handkerchief and anything else is a crazy conspiracy theory. But conspiracizing about debates on the internet as a long, noble history. Let's take a walk through time.

The Crib Sheet

The cheater: Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential debates
The theory: "Romney seems to have gotten caught taking notes from his pocket and later unfolding it on the podium."
The evidence: "Watch Romney's right hand, very early in the video starting at 0:00:09[.] Mitt takes something out of his pocket and tosses it on the podium. It seems as if he maybe using his body to try and screen the movement. [...] I'm NOT saying it is crib/cheat notes .. but I am saying it's a possibility."
The response: "'It's a handkerchief,' the aide said simply in response to the post."
Another possibility: The object was a piece of paper with a picture of the All-Seeing Eye to remind Mitt who his real bosses are.
[GIF by Elspeth Reeve/The Atlantic Wire]

The Campaign Scandal

The cheater: Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential debates
The theory: "A major Obama scandal is about to break, which may partially explain his terrible debate performance."
The evidence: Sarah Palin read a story alleging a "blockbuster donor scandal."
The response: None... yet.
Another possibility: Right before going on stage, Obama is approached by an aide: "Mr. President — just a heads up — Osama Bin Laden is actually still alive. Good luck out there!"

The Translucent Earpiece

The cheater: Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential debates
The theory: "Obama wore an earpiece that was clearly visible on HDTV."
The evidence: A photograph Ann Althouse took of her TV.
The response: Althouse later rescinded her immediate analysis. But: "You know, just because the thing I saw wasn't there doesn't mean there wasn't something there that I didn't see. I would not be surprised to learn some day that all or most politicians have for years had their advisors helping them from deep inside their ear canals."
Another possibility: Obama's entire head is an earpiece, the microphone to which is located in Bill Ayer's apartment.

The Whisper

The cheater: Mitt Romney in the 2008 Republican primary debates
The theory: A very audible whisper of "raise taxes" can be heard just before Romney answers a question with "I'm not going to raise taxes."
The evidence: According to an Andrew Sullivan reader, "Some people have enhanced the first 'he raised taxes' whisper using audio technology and have discovered that there was actually more to it than just 'he raised taxes'. They've disconvered that more can be heard: 'He raised taxes, I'm not gonna...'. Listen to the full enhanced audio yourself. Go out and get a tape and enhance it yourself if you think this is wrong."
The response: "After reviewing the tapes, NBC determined that an open mic picked up a whisper from the audience. It is unclear who it is that says it, but it was not said by any of the candidates, was not heard in the hall and, more importantly, not heard by the candidates."
Another possibility: It was Reagan's ghost.

The Listening Device

The cheater: George Bush in the 2004 presidential debates
The theory: "[A]n image caught by a television camera during the Miami debate... shows a large solid object between Bush's shoulder blades [...] a hidden receiver, picking up transmissions from someone offstage feeding the president answers through a hidden earpiece?"
The evidence: Several low-resolution photographs of "the bulge," rumors that photographers weren't allowed near the president
The response: "Repeated calls to the White House and the Bush national campaign office over a period of three days, inquiring about what the president may have been wearing on his back during the debate, and whether he had used an audio device at other events, went unreturned. [...] A spokeswoman at the press office of Kerry headquarters refused to permit me to talk with anyone in the campaign's research office."
Another possibility: The bulge was Bush's angel wings, taped tightly to his back.

[thanks to Jon Swaine for remembering how crazy Ann Althouse was/is]