Welcome to our year-end awards columns!
As we do every year, we are pre-empting our regular "Friday Talking Points" column, in order to bring you our "best and worst of 2015" list. In homage to our regular Friday columns, we will continue to gleefully abuse the privilege of using the editorial "we" throughout, so get used to that.
Speaking of homage-ing, our very title is, as always, a nod to The McLaughlin Group, who came up with these awards categories for their own year-end shows. We say "homage" with every degree of courtesy and respect, in the hopes that this column won't ever get sued for copyright infringement (to which we would reply: "Fair use!" and "Satire!"... heh).
Just to warn everyone, this is going to be a long column, but it's broken up into smaller chunks for each of the awards. Even regular readers of "Friday Talking Points" may not make it to the end, where we bestow the Person of the Year award, so if you hang in there for the whole thing, our hats are off to you for your stamina!
As always, some of you may seriously disagree with some of our picks (this year, more than most, in fact). If this turns out to be the case, feel free to offer up your own choices in the comments.
Oh, one other technical note -- due to the calendar (which, we hasten to add, is outside our control), the "Part 2" companion to this column will run next Wednesday, not Friday. This is because Christmas and New Year's fall at the end of the week this year, so we had to work around this situation. So check back next Wednesday to see the rest of this year-end best and worst list.
OK, that's enough intro-ing, let's just get right to the awards, shall we?
Biggest Winner Of 2015
This is often an easy category to call, which was indeed the case in 2015. Gay marriage was the Biggest Winner of the year, easily. This is actually the second time gay marriage has won this award, as it also won the 2013 Biggest Winner award, it's worth noting. But while 2013 was indeed a transformational year, 2015 will go down in history as when the big Supreme Court case happened which guaranteed marriage equality all across America.
The high court had set up the situation for this case two years prior, when it refused to rule on the basic question of whether gay marriage was a constitutional right or not. Everyone (us included) predicted at the time that there would be a much bigger second case -- although we certainly didn't expect it to happen so soon (given the glacial pace of the federal court system).
But this June, the Supreme Court did indeed rule on the basic legal question, and it was a clear victory for gay rights. The Republicans have now been reduced to fighting what the military would correctly call a "rear-guard action" (sorry about that) ever since, squabbling over wedding cakes and court clerks. Republican presidential candidates barely even mention the issue anymore, since they know it's a losing political proposition for them, at this point.
Capping off the American victory for gay marriage, the people of the Republic of Ireland -- notorious in the past for being almost theocratic in its deference to the Catholic Church -- actually voted for gay marriage. By doing so, they became the first country on Earth where the voters loudly proclaimed their support for marriage equality.
All around, it's pretty easy to see that gay marriage was clearly the Biggest Winner of 2015.
Biggest Loser Of 2015
Two Republicans were in the running for Biggest Loser of the year, but neither John Boehner (who lost his speakership through a revolt in his own party) nor Scott Walker (who was going to be the great Midwestern hope for the party's presidential aspirations) really rose to being an award-level loser.
Instead, the Biggest Loser of 2015 was the Confederate battle flag. This treasonous rag was previously almost ubiquitous across the South, as the descendents of traitors flew it proudly to celebrate their "heritage" of once being able to own other people. Now it is coming down. The transition isn't complete, but you know the end is nigh when even NASCAR starts begging people not to publicly display. There has been a big shift in what is considered socially acceptable, even in the South.
The change, sadly, came as a result of domestic terrorism. When a murderous killing spree happened in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the nation was shocked to its core. The victims were targeted solely because of their race. This led South Carolina's governor, the Indian-American Nikki Haley, to call for the Confederate flag's removal from her statehouse grounds. When this flag came down, it was the start of a new era of how the flag (and other commemorations of the Confederacy) would now be seen by the country at large.
As noted, the transition is not complete -- the Mississippi state flag still uses the Confederate image, for instance. But states have been given the OK by the Supreme Court to ban the image from their vehicle license plates, and even this week the city of New Orleans announced it'll be taking down four statues of Confederate heroes. So progress is being made, faster in some locations than others. But the country's attitudes underwent a sea change during 2015, which is why we're giving the Biggest Loser award to the Confederate flag.
We're going to make an easy prediction before announcing the Best Politician award: You're going to get tired of reading this man's name in these awards. Yes, there's simply no way around it. Donald Trump was the Best Politician of the year.
Trump doesn't even like being called a politician, it's worth noting, but he certainly does seem to be good at it. Previously considered nothing more than a political joke, Trump has been threatening to run for president for over a decade, now. This year he turned out not to be kidding about his ambitions.
Nobody's laughing much now. Trump started his campaign off by saying incredibly offensive things, and he now enjoys the position of being able to say increasingly offensive things without paying a political price for doing so. In fact, the opposite is true -- his approval actually goes up when he says offensive things.
From the start of his campaign, Trump has absolutely dominated the Republican field in the polling. Only one other candidate (Ben Carson) has even gotten anywhere near besting Trump in the polls, in fact. His most recent poll numbers among Republican voters were 38 and 41 percent -- when the rest of the field struggles (and mostly fails) to even hit 15 percent.
Donald Trump is astonishing pretty much everyone within the Beltway who does politics for a living. Nobody foresaw his rise, nobody would believe he could sustain it, and even now most are still engaging in some form of magical thinking to reassure themselves that Trump can't possibly be the Republican nominee (our favorite from the past week alone: "Trump will get beat by Ted Cruz in Iowa, and then get so annoyed at not winning that he'll drop out of the race before New Hampshire even votes").
Donald Trump has completely upset the apple cart of American politics. Love him or hate him, you've got to admit that no other political figure even came close to the attention Trump has gotten in the past six months. Trump is unquestionably the Best Politician of the year.
Of course, we do realize that it depends on how you define these awards where you would place Donald Trump. An argument could very easily be made that Trump is the "worst" politician to appear on the American stage since the Civil Rights era. But we choose to define the terms in a different way, which leads us to name Jeb Bush the Worst Politician of 2015.
Jeb (or, as he wants us to call him, "Jeb!") Bush was supposed to have completely wrapped up the Republican nomination by now. He had a master plan, after all. It was to raise so much money that all other competitors would quietly bow out of the race for the nomination. This money would then be spent attacking Hillary Clinton and reminding everyone that Jeb was "the smart one" in his generation of Bushes.
Obviously, this plan was seriously flawed. Or, perhaps, the plan was a good one (his super PAC raised a whopping $100 million before anyone else's campaign had even gotten their shoes tied, really), but the candidate was flawed. For whatever the reason, Jeb Bush's lackluster campaign is somewhat of an embarrassment these days for all the Establishment Republicans who shoveled mountains of cash into the project. Jeb didn't even scare anyone off from running (unless you count Mitt Romney), and the Republican field at one point had a whopping 17 people running.
Jeb Bush, by almost any measure, was the Worst Politician of 2015. We almost feel sorry for Jebbie, and can easily picture him skulking back home to Florida, where he will spend his days rocking back and forth in a crouch, mumbling: "It wasn't supposed to be this way!" Poor Jeb. Or, to be charitable to his exclamatory campaign theme one last time: Poor Jeb!
Most Defining Political Moment
There were quite a few nominees for the Most Defining Political Moment. An easy case could be made for Donald Trump's campaign announcement, where he began by labeling Mexicans as "rapists." That pretty much defined not only his campaign, but the entire Republican campaign -- xenophobia would be the big theme for the rest of the year.
John Boehner's ouster as Speaker of the House, in any normal year, would likely have been the Most Defining Political Moment. Speakers don't get forced out every day, to put this another way.
But, sadly, we have to give this award to two different series of events. The first was the terrorist attacks in France. At the start of the year, we were all Charlie Hebdo. At the end of the year, an absolute massacre was carried out in Paris. In between, some Americans thwarted an attempted shooting on a train. The terrorism in France focused the world's attention dramatically on terrorism in general and the Islamic State in particular. It was a tragedy, but it was also a definitional political moment.
The second series of events that wins Most Defining Political Moment was the relations between African-Americans and the police in American cities. Last year, we had Ferguson. This year, we had riots in Baltimore, and a video release in Chicago. Videos -- from body cameras and dashboard cameras -- were really the most "defining" aspect of these events, in fact, as America watched on their nightly news how some cops have awfully itchy trigger-fingers. This year also saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which arose as a reaction to all of these events. Which is why "videos of cops shooting black men" was equally the Most Defining Political Moment of the year.
Turncoat Of The Year
We briefly considered the Tea Party, again for their ouster of Boehner, but then we remembered what the Senate was up to this year.
The entire Republican caucus in the Senate wins the Turncoat award this year, for their disgraceful actions in the run-up to the Iran nuclear pact. Not only did the Senate Republicans invite Bibi Netanyahu to essentially use the floors of Congress as his own campaign ad (to win an election back in Israel), but they actually tried to conduct their own foreign policy to undermine the president's negotiations.
I used the words previously when discussing the Confederate flag, but they are just as appropriate here. When the Senate Republicans wrote a letter to the government of Iran trying to scuttle the talks between them and the Obama administration, it was illegal (see: the Logan Act), it was traitorous, and it bordered quite closely on outright treason.
Think that's too strongly worded? Imagine, if you will, what Republicans would have said if (for instance) Senate Democrats had written a similar letter to the Soviet leaders in Russia while Ronald Reagan was in the process of negotiating a pact with them. Think Republicans would have shied away from using such language? I don't, which is why I do use such language.
What the Senate Republicans did was to turn their coats against America in ways that had previously been considered unthinkable. They all win Turncoat of the Year, without question.
This was a tough choice between two candidates, but while Jeb Bush was pretty darn boring, just on stylistic points alone we have to give Most Boring to Ben Carson.
His speaking style even seems to put him to sleep, after all. In fact, just the thought of listening to a Ben Carson speech in full is making us... very... sleepy. [Yawn!] Excuse us, we've got to go lie down for a nap, now.
We define "charismatic" neutrally -- you can have good charisma or bad charisma, but we measure the award by total charisma without regard to direction.
This is a polite way for apologizing for giving another award to Donald Trump. Of course, we do realize that different people define "charisma" in their own ways, but the way we measure it, nobody else really even came close. OK, maybe Joe Biden, as he struggled with the decision to run for president after tragically losing his son -- that might be the only example from the past year to even merit consideration.
But the winner of Most Charismatic is clear. Donald Trump has launched what political historians would likely label a "cult of personality," and it has been confounding the Republican Party ever since he started. Frank Luntz, who makes his living holding focus groups to figure out what Republican voters are thinking, has pronounced that he's never personally seen anything like the Trump phenomenon.
The core of Trump's support: people simply do not care what he says -- this is why whenever he says something incredibly outrageous, Trump's support goes up, not down. Trump supporters like the way Trump talks, not what actually comes out of his mouth. And (as Luntz and others are starting to realize), they are much more loyal to Trump than even to the Republican Party.
If that isn't a working definition of political charisma, we don't know what is. With gritted teeth, we have to reluctantly admit that Donald Trump is indeed the only possible choice for the Most Charismatic award.
This was a tough one to decide, because there were two bum raps in 2015 that were both hyped almost beyond belief, with a compliant media going along for the ride. The first was all the hoopla over the Iran nuclear deal, which (just for starters) did not "give" Iran hundreds of billions of dollars. It unfroze money that was always Iran's to begin with, which is not the same thing as the U.S. handing over taxpayer dollars to Iran, as many critics inferred. There was plenty of apocalyptic rhetoric deployed about this deal, and almost none of it bore any relation to the actual facts of the deal. What with the Bibi speech to Congress and Republicans going full-on "the end is nigh," the Iran nuclear deal got a very bum rap indeed this year.
But the winner in this category was "Benghazi!" -- and, in particular, the bum rap that Hillary Clinton was personally directing terrorists to attack U.S. personnel (or something -- it was indeed hard to keep up with the conspiracy theories surrounding Benghazi). Clinton spent a very long day testifying before a House committee specifically designed to blunt her chances of becoming president -- an abuse of power we haven't seen from Congress in a long time. Clinton emerged unscathed from this hearing, with nary a scratch on her. This bum rap has been around a very long time now, but Republicans have yet to realize that their continued hyperventilating over Benghazi is not now (if it ever even was) doing them any good politically at all. Benghazi was the Bummest Rap of 2015, and Hillary did a great job of rising above it.
Well, let's see... there were quite a few to choose from in the Fairest Rap category. The "blade runner" guy who got his conviction upheld (and increased, in fact) in South Africa. The world's soccer gurus (FIFA) are possibly the most corrupt sports leaders outside of the Olympic committee. Dennis Hastert was a pedophile predator and paid a whopping amount in blackmail to cover it up. Deflategate, with Tom Brady wiping his phone data. The Ohio marijuana legalization ballot initiative would have legalized a weed oligopoly in the state. There are probably lots of others that escaped our notice, as well. A good case could be made that "Bernie Sanders's entire platform" is indeed the Fairest Rap of the campaign season (towards Wall Street in particular).
But we've got to say that the Fairest Rap this year came from the media world, not the political one. Brian Williams took a very hard fall this year, and it was entirely deserved. BriWi (as we like to call him) had a sort of side career to his anchoring the NBC news show, that of being a charming guest on late-night television, where he would regale the host with his personalized stories of the intensity of his experiences in all sorts of crises (Hurricane Katrina, war stories, etc.). This BriWi cottage industry rose up to bite him in the nether regions this year, when he was exposed as a serial liar (or, to be more charitable, a serial exaggerator) in just how personalized these stories became, over time, after BriWi told them over and over again -- with the stories morphing from "this happened while I was there" to "this happened to me, and I witnessed it." BriWi was kicked off NBC (to be replaced by Lester Holt), and demoted to some sort of anchor emeritus on MSNBC. BriWi lied, he was fired, and he even got a much cushier gig than anyone else who lied about the news should have. It was all the Fairest Rap of 2015.
Gay marriage made a spectacular comeback at the Supreme Court, but we've already given a big award for that. Hillary Clinton likewise made a big comeback in her Benghazi hearing, too, but she's already gotten an award for that as well. In sort of a generic big-picture sense, the American economy continued its comeback from the Great Recession, as unemployment hit five percent -- exactly half of the ten percent of its highest Great Recession spike, in Obama's first year in office. The economy's doing so well that the Fed just saw fit to raise interest rates for the first time since the collapse.
But we've got to hand the Best Comeback award to Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry's low point, of course, was losing the 2004 election to George W. Bush. Not much more needs be said about that, really. But he is now in the job that will likely be his last one in his political career, and he's been achieving things at a frenetic pace.
After Hillary Clinton stepped down (when Obama won his second term), John Kerry was tapped to lead the State Department. Since then, an amazing amount of foreign policy has been conducted. Cuba has been reopened, which ended the Cold War for good. That's a spectacular achievement, although reportedly the Pope and the White House had more to do with working the deal out than the State Department. Still, it's been up to Kerry to implement (the deal was actually announced in 2014, but the implementation has happened this year). The Iran nuclear deal likewise ended decades of non-contact between America and Iran -- another historic milestone, and one that can be directly chalked up to Kerry's work. Kerry can also take credit for the recently-announced climate change pact worked out among all the planet's nations. That's a lot of achievements, and even when Kerry failed to reach his goals (most notably, on getting the Israelis and Palestinians together), you could at least admire his lofty ambitions and dedication to solving seemingly-intractable problems on the world's stage.
So, from the depths of losing a presidential campaign to what will likely be seen as his political crowning achievements, Secretary of State John Kerry deserves the Best Comeback award.
Most Original Thinker
First, an honorable mention in this award category, to Bruce Roter, the man behind the effort to create a Museum of Political Corruption in Albany, New York. As we've seen over the year, there are plenty of Albany politicians (from both sides of the aisle) who were indicted for the rankest corruption this year alone, which makes the choice of Albany an easy one for the first such museum in the country. The museum effort achieved non-profit status this year, and now counts Zephyr Teachout as one of its supporters, so if you're looking for a good cause to donate to this holiday season....
Also worth mentioning was Thomas Piketty and his book on economics, but we checked and the book actually came out in 2014, which we considered disqualifying for this year. He certainly was a very original thinker on the subject and made a gigantic splash with his book, though.
But we've got to give the Most Original Thinker award to none other than Bernie Sanders this year. Now, it could certainly be argued that Bernie's populism and his demonization of Wall Street isn't exactly new. It could also be argued that other Democrats on the presidential campaign trail have trod this path before (John Edwards and Howard Dean, to name just two). But Bernie's campaign has caught fire in such a way that it could not be ignored -- even with the almost-complete media blackout on Bernie news.
Bernie's been pulling in crowds of thousands and thousands of people ever since he started running. I personally attended a Bernie rally in Phoenix last summer, where 11,000 other people showed up to hear what Bernie had to say. And that was in the summer -- long before most people even started paying attention. Bernie just announced he has now topped 2,000,000 individual donations, which has set a record for any presidential campaign (and it's not even 2016 yet). Bernie Sanders has shown that economic populism is exactly what a large portion of the electorate wants to hear right now, and he's been a remarkably strong and consistent voice throughout the campaign. For that feat, he deserves Most Original Thinker.
Most Stagnant Thinker
This one, sadly, is pretty easy. The Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIL, or ISIS, or Daesh) is stagnant in the extreme, since they truly want to take society back to the Dark Ages -- say, about 1,000 years ago.
In fact, we consider this award so obvious that little more needs be said about it. The Islamic State's thinking is downright paleolithic, and needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history, like the rest of the Dark Ages.
Best Photo Op
An absolute plethora of choices filled the Best Photo Op category this year. On literal grounds, the Pluto flyby by NASA certainly qualifies, as it was a photo op many years in the making and the pictures were absolutely spectacular (especially to those of us who still refer to "the planet Pluto").
Another geeky nominee was this year's "Pi Day" which was the most spectacular ever, at precisely 3/14/15 -- 9:26:53, which is the exact value of pi, to ten places. There won't be another such moment for 100 years, making it notable indeed.
The opening of Cuba certainly produced historic photos, as did gay people getting married in every state in the country this summer.
From the campaign trail, the Bernie Sanders mega-rallies were certainly photogenic (I personally snapped a few decent shots of one, if I do say so myself). The most amusing photo op from the campaign trail, however, was the video loop of all the journalists frantically chasing Hillary Clinton's "Scooby Van" at one of her first campaign appearances. It's rare indeed when the mainstream media turns the lens on its own idiocy, and this was one of the best examples in years.
Using a different definition of "best," all the cop shooting videos certainly qualified -- because without those videos and photos, a whole lot of these incidents would never have risen to the media's attention. Poor people complaining about police brutality? The media yawns. Video of a cop shooting an unarmed poor person, and then later lying like a rug about what happened? Now that's a story!
But, sadly, our Best Photo Op came as a result of one of the many, many shooting tragedies which happened this year. President Obama is, even as we write this, meeting with the family members of those killed in the most recent shooting tragedy, which is a grim milestone to note. But his best moment came in the wake (or, more accurately, "at the wake") of the Charleston church shooting victims. Whether it was spontaneous or planned (it certainly caught the organist by surprise, from the video), President Obama broke into a solo rendition of "Amazing Grace" as part of his eulogy in the church, and eventually the rest of the congregation (and the organist) joined in with him. It was a poignant moment, and it was also (sadly) the Best Photo Op of the year.
Worst Photo Op
Once again, in sadness, there were many bad photo ops to choose from this year. The Baltimore riots. All those cop videos (if you define the award categories differently). Paris (twice -- let's not forget "Nous sommes Charlie Hebdo"). Mike Huckabee milking the release from jail of a county clerk who refused to do her job because she wanted the religious right to be a bigot. The misleadingly-edited abortion videos which attacked Planned Parenthood.
Two incidents stood out from all of this, however. The first was the photos of Walter Palmer gleefully celebrating killing Cecil the Lion, in Zimbabwe. That was a pretty bad photo op, and led to righteous (and well-deserved) outrage from animal lovers everywhere.
But we cannot put an animal's life above a human's, so the Worst Photo Op from 2015 was the photo of a dead Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach. The refugee crisis between Turkey and Greece (and the rest of the European Union as well) was the most heartbreaking news of 2015, in fact. And the photos of a tiny corpse who didn't make it absolutely defined the issue in the world's press. We were all forced to confront the reality of the plight of these refugees from a brutal war by seeing someone's son tragically lost during the harrowing voyage many of these refugees have attempted. Clearly the Worst Photo Op of the year.
This category is a complete free-for-all, as always.
Immigrant-bashing -- Enough already!
Refugee fearmongering -- Enough already!
Trump's Mexican wall -- Enough already!
Brian Williams -- Enough already!
Michele Leonhart, ex-head of the D.E.A. -- Enough already!
Secret Service sex (and other) scandals -- Enough already!
John Boehner -- Enough already!
Denny Hastert -- Enough already!
Selfies -- Enough already!
Mass shootings -- Enough already!
10-candidate debates -- Enough already!
Benghazi -- Enough already!
Hillary's emails -- Enough already!
And finally, a bit of wishful thinking:
Donald Trump -- Enough already!
Donald Trump's entire campaign? Well, at the very least, Trump asserting that most folks crossing the southern border were "rapists" and "criminals." That's the big lie that got his campaign rolling, so it deserves singling out. As does Ben Carson's biography, which is now seen as following in the fine Brian Williams tradition of "just makin' stuff up."
Volkswagen's "cheat mode" to beat smog tests was a pretty egregious example of corporate lying. Then there was Deflategate, of course.
But the Worst Lie of the year had to be both the Planned Parenthood videos, and pretty much everything Carly Fiorina had to say about them while debating. Planned Parenthood does not "profit" from selling fetal tissue, no matter how the videos were edited to make this lie appear true. They have been investigated by multiple state governments since the videos came out, and they have been exonerated by each and every one. The charge simply isn't true. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from taking the lie and running hard with it. Planned Parenthood doesn't even cover its administrative costs any more (which was fully legal, mind you), in an effort to discredit the lie further. The Worst Lie of the year was the Planned Parenthood videos, and everything said about them by Republicans since (led by Carly in a nationally-televised debate).
Capitalist Of The Year
You can charge us with personal bias in this one, and there's a certain degree of truth to that, we have to admit. The 2015 Capitalist of the Year award goes to the remaining members of the Grateful Dead.
The Jerry Garcia-less Dead staged five concerts this year, as a "Fare Thee Well" final tour. They appeared in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, and charged a whole bunch of money for the tickets, in order to further fund the bandmembers' retirement. Then, immediately after these "last concerts ever," almost all of them announced an extended tour to rake in even bigger piles of cash from their fans.
Now, don't get us wrong -- we attended the California shows and enjoyed the experience immensely. The music was great, the crowd was even better, we saw friends we haven't laid eyes on in decades, and in general a great time was had by all. Oh, this reminds us that one of these shows really should have qualified for a Best Photo Op award, when a spectacular double-rainbow appeared over the stadium after a sprinkling of rain (which was not, as initially reported, a $50,000 fake, we might add).
Still, no matter how much we personally enjoyed the event, it has to be noted on purely capitalist grounds (is that Jerry spinning in his grave I hear?). It's a tough cookie for some idealistic hippies to swallow, but the remaining members of the Grateful Dead were indeed the Capitalists of the Year.
This is another one of those anything-goes categories.
The 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House, which ended the Civil War, is certainly worth an Honorable Mention.
American Pharoah deserves a mention for winning horseracing's Triple Crown -- the first time any horse has won since 1978.
The documentary film (which aired on PBS this year) titled 1971, which chronicled the same events as Betty Medsger's book The Burglary, certainly deserves an Honorable Mention. Any fan of Edward Snowden should really check this extraordinary story out.
Let's see, who else? Angela Merkel for being the strongest leader in Europe over the past year, but then she's already been given a prestigious award by a magazine for her efforts.
Joe Biden, who ultimately declined to run for president this year, which disappointed many Biden fans within the Democratic Party. Biden's personal anguish was on public display after the death of his son Beau, and he handled his grief in laudable fashion.
Jim Obergefell, whose name will forever be synonymous with gay marriage in American history. Obergefell joins Marbury, Dred Scott, Miranda, Brown (from Brown v. Board of Education), and Roe (a pseudonym, but still), as a member of an elite group of people whose names have entered the common vernacular because of significant Supreme Court cases.
The Kurdish peshmurga, who are the most successful group fighting the Islamic State, certainly deserve accolades.
Women in the military who are now free to attempt qualifying for every combat job that males are able to compete for.
And, finally, the driverless car, which is going to be a reality on American roads a lot faster than you might now think.
Person Of The Year
Once again, this is going to cause many of you to cringe. Fair warning, and all of that.
Donald Trump was the 2015 Person of the Year. There's just no getting around it.
Whether he wins the Republican presidential nomination or not, and whether he's our next president or not (hopefully not, but you never know...), 2015 will always be remembered by political historians as the Year Of The Donald. Trump-mania exploded shortly after he announced his run, and it shows absolutely no signs of abating any time soon. This has astonished, frightened, terrified, and absolutely blown the minds of approximately everyone inside the Beltway -- especially the Republican Party bigwigs.
There's no other way to put it -- Donald Trump has successfully hijacked the Republican Party. They are all scared to even take him on, in the fears of his supporters bolting from the party en masse. Beyond this explosion of anxiety and angst within the party, Trump's continued success has given rise to a level of "magical thinking" which is unprecedented in Washington (at least in our memory) -- most of it coming from the media. Here's a quick timeline of this magical thinking, as a review:
Trump's not really running -- he threatens this every cycle.
Trump is a joke. Nobody will support him -- they'll just laugh at him.
Trump said what about Mexicans? He's toast.
Trump is just the "flavor of the month" -- he'll implode soon.
Trump is just a "summer romance" -- his numbers will fall in the fall.
Trump said what about John McCain? Wow -- stick a fork in him, he's done.
Trump said what during the debates? That's it -- the beginning of the end.
Trump will not be the Republican nominee, because the voters will wake up at the last minute.
Trump said what about Muslims? He's finally gone too far this time.
Trump won't win the nomination, but he might run as a third-party candidate.
Trump might -- at best, mind you -- cause a brokered convention, where the party bigwigs will deny him the nomination.
Trump is going to quit the race in a huff, right after he loses Iowa to Ted Cruz.
Now, we may have missed a few bits of magical thinking in there ("Trump said what about women?" springs to mind), but it's a pretty fair recap of Washington insiders all convincing themselves -- and echoing such pronouncements between themselves -- that there was just no possible way that Trump's support was in any way solid or real. Of course he won't win the nomination (they all tell each other at cocktail parties), such a thing is simply inconceivable.
We call this magical thinking because there is absolutely nothing factual to back it up. It's all a big "gut feeling" call by pretty much everyone in the media and the political class. And, so far, it simply has not happened, no matter how many times it has been predicted. Trump is the clear frontrunner to win the Republican nomination. He has absolutely defined the Republican race. Every other candidate reacts to Trump's pronouncements, if they want to get covered by the news at all. Trump has spent very little money on his campaign because he hasn't needed to -- he's gotten all the free television time he wants, and he doesn't even bother (in most cases) to give in-studio interviews. He's literally phoning his campaign in, all the while beating the pants off every other Republican in the field. Only one man -- Ben Carson -- has ever bested him in the polling averages, and Carson only managed this feat for less than a week, before he started his own spectacular slide back towards political oblivion. Other second-place candidates are still struggling mightily to pull in even half of Trump's support.
For dominating not only the Republican Party but the entire presidential campaign for six months now, and for being the biggest political story for pretty much that entire period, Donald Trump is the clear choice for Person Of The Year. We apologize for the pick -- we don't like it any better than you, in other words -- but our motto has always been "reality-based political commentary," and it is simply impossible to ignore the reality of Trump's dominance of American politics in 2015.
[See you next Wednesday, for the conclusion of our 2015 awards!]
If you're interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:
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