My 2016 "McLaughlin Awards" [Part 2]

Welcome back to our annual year-end awards column!

We have to begin our second half with a big mea culpa for an inadvertent error in Part 1 of this column, last week. We mistakenly gave a humorous “Honorable Mention” award to George Washington University, for (as we put it) “considering the creation of the Antonin Scalia School Of Law (which would have given us a choice of acronyms to call it: ‘ASSOL’ or perhaps ‘ASSLaw.’”

We were politely contacted (by tweet) by G.W.U. and informed of our mistake, for which we’d like to apologize. Instead, this amusing news item came from George Mason University. We have corrected this on our site in last week’s column, and thank the G.W. media relations people for not being too snarky about our error.

OK, with the old business out of the way, let’s get on with the final group of year-end awards, shall we?


   Destined For Political Stardom

Maybe the Democrats will decide to fight fire with fire, and start grooming their own celebrity candidates. If this turns out to be the case, it would certainly widen this field. Perhaps Destined For Political Stardom should go to someone like Mark Cuban (who is reported to be considering entering politics in a big way) or maybe Michael Moore?

But we’re going to go a little more conventional with our choices here. In fact, we’re sticking pretty close to home. We have two Californians who fit the bill, and we simply couldn’t decide between the two so we’re handing the Destined For Political Stardom award to both our incoming freshman senator Kamala Harris, and our (quite likely) soon-to-be governor, Gavin Newsom. If things progress as expected, we may also have another Senate slot open up in 2018, as Senator Dianne Feinstein is widely expected to forgo another re-election run, so California may be the best Democratic “bench” for up-and-comers for the next few years.

Both Harris and Newsom have already made their mark on politics in the Golden State, but our guess is that the rest of the country will start becoming more familiar with their names as well. Either one could be a plausible presidential candidate in 2020 or 2024, because we believe both are indeed Destined For Political Stardom.


   Destined For Political Oblivion

If we wanted to be extra-snarky, we’d hand the Destined For Political Oblivion award to Hillary Rodham Clinton. But we’re not in an especially snarky mood today, so we’ll just mention that in passing.

There were many more nominees on the Republican side this year, starting with all 16 primary candidates who failed to stop the Trump train. Most of them are headed for oblivion in one fashion or another. While a few managed to suck up to Trump successfully enough to get a plum job (Rick Perry, for instance), and a few managed to retain or win back their old job (Rand Paul, Marco Rubio), the majority of them are headed nowhere politically.

We could always give the award to Jeb Bush, but we heaped enough scorn on him last week, so we’ll leave him alone. Instead, a special mention is deserved for all those who sucked up to Trump the most ― and were left with nothing to show for it. Mitt Romney springs to mind, although (again) we beat up on Mittens pretty good last week. Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani tried to weasel their way in to Trump’s inner circle, to no avail.

But one man stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to debasing themselves publicly in fawning adoration of Trump ― with nothing to show for it at the end of the day. Yes, we speak of none other than Chris Christie. His “blink if you’re here under duress” hostage appearances standing behind Trump at a lectern were so notable for showing the depths a politician would sink for advancement that he certainly deserves some sort of award, we feel. While Christie’s job approval rating as governor sank like a cement-footed body into a New Jersey swamp, he desperately tried to attain a Trump administration job (heavy betting was on him becoming attorney general, since he began as a federal prosecutor). To no good end, as it turned out that one of the people he prosecuted was none other than Trump’s son-in-law’s father. Whoops! This pretty much guaranteed he’d never get a juicy administration job, which Christie really should have been smart enough to figure out before turning in such a cringeworthy (and public) performance of sucking up to Trump in any way he could (including going out for fast-food takeout for the Trumpster). Christie now has no political future in national politics, and no real legacy in New Jersey other than “Bridgegate” and charting the lowest approval rating of any Garden State governor in history. So Chris Christie is indeed Destined For Political Oblivion.


   Best Political Theater

If we took this award literally, we’d have to add it to the mountain of awards already given to the musical Hamilton. Furthermore, if we read it as “Best Politics Performed In A Theater,” we’d give it to the Hamilton cast for saying exactly what they felt to Mike Pence, in the audience.

If we interpreted this award (as we sometimes do) as “Best Political Satire,” then we’d have to give it to Stephen Colbert, who had a running bit on his late-night show where he donned a Hunger Games outfit and gave a “tribute to the fallen” for each presidential candidate (on both sides) as they bowed out of the race. These little vignettes just got funnier and funnier as more and more of them dropped out, in fact, and were one of the few truly hilarious things to look forward to during the primary campaign.

We really had four finalists in this category to choose from, which we’ll get to in a moment, but first we’d like to note for the record the passing of what has to be the longest bit of political theater in all of American history, performed by a woman whose name most don’t even recognize. We gave her our weekly “Most Impressive” award earlier this year, upon her death, but Concepcion Picciotto deserves mentioning again here at the end of the year as well. Picciotto joined a protest across the street from the White House (against nuclear proliferation ― “No Nukes” was big in the 1980s) in the year 1981, when Ronald Reagan was president. She continued her protest right up to her death this year, making it a 35-year-long protest. As we said, quite probably the longest-running political theater of all time. That is indeed dedication to a cause, and her record in Lafayette Park will likely never be broken.

First of our four finalists for 2016, though, was Colin Kaepernick taking a knee or sitting down rather than standing for the national anthem at 49ers football games. This certainly was effective, since while he didn’t try to draw attention to his protest at first (it took a few exhibition games before the sports media even noticed it), he certainly did reach one of the widest audiences for such a political statement, and drew comparisons to the two San Jose State runners who gave “black power” salutes during the anthem after winning medals at the 1968 Olympics.

The second two of our four finalists were related, because they were both done in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting. Senator Chris Murphy staged the ninth-longest filibuster in Senate history to force a vote on a gun control bill, which he succeeded in doing, at the end ― but only after speaking non-stop for almost 15 hours. That’s impressive political theater indeed. Then the House got in on the act, as John Lewis staged a sit-in on the House floor to demand a gun control vote as well. This “Occupy Congress” action lasted an even-more-impressive 25 hours, and truly got under the skin of the Republican leadership. When Paul Ryan ordered the cameras shut down, the Democrats supporting Lewis pulled out their phones and began streaming it to the web. This very week, Ryan is trying to push for a new House rule that would fine any member a whopping $2,500 for beaming images of what is happening in the people’s House to the public ― which truly shows just how much this stunt annoyed him.

But instead the winner of the 2016 Best Political Theater goes to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose months-long protest over the Dakota Access Pipeline was ultimately successful ― more successful than anyone imagined, when they began their protest. America saw images of people in authority turning dogs on peaceful protesters, and (worst of all) water cannons being used against them in sub-freezing temperatures. In the end, the Army Corps of Engineers relented and stopped the pipeline from being built. The tribe’s water supplies are no longer threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline, all because people stood up for what they believed in for month after month after month on the windswept Dakota plains. Well done, and congratulations on your protest’s success!


   Worst Political Theater

As usual, we have so many choices here that we’re just going to quickly list all the runners-up.

The pointless and unsuccessful armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon.

Donald Trump’s manipulation of live cable news ― getting them to show endless shots of an empty podium (in anticipation of a “major announcement”) multiple times during the campaign.

Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the Republican National Convention (we thought he was going to have a stroke, right there on the stage, personally).

Ted Cruz, in full desperation mode, announcing that Carly Fiorina was going to be his running mate ― right before he bowed out of the presidential race.

Chris Christie’s “hostage video.”

Donald Trump celebrating Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo of him eating a taco bowl ― it’s hard to beat that one just for sheer awfulness, in fact.

Trump’s victory “thank-you” tour, after being elected.

Every single GOP primary debate ― with special emphasis on the “undercard” (or “kiddie table”) debates for those who were polling at like one percent. Please, gods of television, can we never be subjected to that again? Pretty please?

But we’re going to be fair and balanced and hand out two Worst Political Theater awards this year, one to Donald Trump for his failed stunt at one of the general election debates, when he tried to seat all the accusers of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in his family’s seating area (which he was prevented from doing). He also held a little press conference so the cameras could get a good look at them all, but to no avail. Bubba’s misconduct simply never became a political issue for Hillary during the campaign, and it did nothing to distract people from “Pussygate,” so it has to be deemed a total political theater failure.

Our second Worst Political Theater award goes to Hillary Clinton, for her “basket of deplorables” speech to donors. Seriously, this is the third time in a row a presidential candidate has been recorded denigrating a large portion of the electorate on the campaign trail. First we had Barack Obama’s “cling to their guns and religion” and then there was Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment. We quoted both of these in their entirety (because when shortened, you lose the context of what they were talking about) in the column written in response to Hillary, which we started off with: “Hillary Clinton made a deplorable basket case this weekend.” Kidding aside, you just have to wonder when presidential candidates (from either party) are going to realize that: number one, you are never not being recorded on the campaign trail; and, two, that it is a monumentally bad idea to insult a huge chunk of voters. You’d think this sort of thing would be taught in Politics 101, but apparently not. Clinton’s remark will long be remembered, which is why it is worthy of a Worst Political Theater award.


   Worst Political Scandal

We’re inclined to just say “the media’s coverage of Donald Trump” and leave it at that, since their behavior was (for the most part) nothing short of scandalous, from beginning to end. We could also just give it to “Republicans supporting a man they know isn’t really one of them,” which was also pretty scandalous. Then there’s always Anthony Weiner, or possibly Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But the choice is really obvious this year. The Worst Political Scandal was Russia hacking in to an American election. This scandal was bad for a number of reasons. First, it exposed the shenanigans at the Democratic National Committee (which forced Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign on the eve of the Democratic National Convention). Second, Hillary Clinton did not utilize it politically very well (Barack Obama also bears some of this blame). The phrase “Ronald Reagan would be spinning in his grave to hear Republicans dismiss Russian interference in a U.S. election” should have been used before the election, not after. Which is really the biggest scandal of all ― the GOP’s non-response to the scandal itself. We may see this turn around early next year, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham have anything to say about it, but that doesn’t do Hillary Clinton any good at this point. Worst Political Scandal was easily the Russian hack.


   Most Underreported Story

We are strongly inclined to give the 2016 Most Underreported Story to last year’s winner ― Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president. The media continued to all but ignore Bernie Sanders, and treat Hillary Clinton as the inevitable nominee even while Bernie was surging. But, like we said, we did that last year.

We could also hand this award to “Congress shamefully failing to address an ongoing health emergency” by refusing to act on emergency funds to fight the Zika virus ― for a large portion of the year. Instead of appropriating money for mosquito eradication when it would have been best spent (when the weather got warmer), Congress dithered for over half a year. This is nothing short of a disgrace, and the media absolutely fell down on the job of pointing out how dangerous Republican obstructionism in Congress had gotten. Lives were at stake, and they refused to act. That’s a pretty big story not to report, we have to admit.

But instead, we are going to get specific this year, and hand the Most Underreported Story this year to David Fahrenthold at the Washington Post, who did a bang-up job of trying to get the rest of the media interested in a big story, mostly to no avail. Fahrenthold deserves a Pulitzer for his reporting, because he stuck to the basics ― he did the months of investigation and digging to uncover all the scandals surrounding the Donald J. Trump Foundation. This story broke early in the year with the revelation that Trump hadn’t made good on his pledge ― given onstage while Trump was sitting out a GOP primary debate ― to donate $6 million to veterans’ causes. Turns out Trump made the pledge and then never actually got around to handing any money out. Fahrenthold called every veterans non-profit he could, to see if any Trump money had come their way. When he finally realized virtually no money could be found, he called Trump’s campaign for a statement. That week, in a flurry of activity, donations began to be made (some of them in the middle of the night).

From this beginning, Fahrenthold went on to uncover the stories of the Trump Foundation illegally making a campaign donation to a state attorney general who was considering bringing a case against Trump University (and who, not surprisingly, decided not to prosecute ― after the check cleared), the story of Trump using foundation money to buy two gigantic portraits of himself (which he then illegally hung at his own resort), and the story of Trump actually paying off personal lawsuits using over a quarter-million dollars of his foundation’s money (which is also illegal).

During all of this, the media spent more time breathlessly “reporting” on the Clinton Foundation, even though there was no comparable scandal to the Trump Foundation to be found.

Fahrenthold , as we said, deserves a Pulitzer for his digging. The rest of the media deserve a wet and loud raspberry for utterly failing to do their jobs on this story. Most Underreported Story of 2016 was the multiple illegal doings at the Trump Foundation.


   Most Overreported Story

This one is so simple it really requires no explanation. We will instead merely use the immortal words of her primary competitor: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”

Granted, the Democrats certainly deserve some of the blame, for nominating a woman currently under F.B.I. investigation. But for all the ink spilled (oceans of it) and for all the television time spent (hours of it), there simply was no there there. Bernie was right, but the media never quite seemed to get the message. Most Overreported Story was Hillary Clinton’s email server.


   Biggest Government Waste

Well, we could give this to the time and money spent investigating Hillary’s email scandal, but that just got the last award, so we’ll pick something else instead.

Biggest Government Waste this year was the Electoral College. For the second time in the past 16 years, the winner of the popular vote did not win the presidency. Now, maybe we’re a wee bit biased, since in both instances this meant the Democrat who won the most votes lost the election, but even so, just try explaining how a candidate with almost 3,000,000 more votes lost the election to someone from a foreign country, and you’ll soon wind up sounding like you’re justifying an election in a banana republic.

Why does America not just count the votes? “History” is the only real answer, but it’s becoming less and less tenable over time. There is a real effort (the National Popular Vote movement) to change this, but the only way it could be both successful and accepted would have been if a Republican had won the popular vote but lost the election ― because right now the states that have joined the N.P.V. bandwagon are all blue states. If a wave of red states had also joined up (say, if Trump got more votes than Hillary but lost in the Electoral College), then it would be a true bipartisan effort. Absent that sort of outcome, the movement is likely to fail.

Fixing the problem aside, though, the Biggest Government Waste of the year was definitely the Electoral College. Once again.


   Best Government Dollar Spent

Planned Parenthood, maybe? They certainly do the most good with the government money they get, and are fighting a wave of conservative laws aimed at cutting them off.

But we’re going to get extra-specific here, too, and give Best Government Dollar Spent to the money it took to reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba. This will be seen as an extremely historic (and long overdue) addition to Barack Obama’s presidential legacy, even if it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it should have.

Now that Fidel Castro’s dead, perhaps the island nation can make some real progress towards respectability on the world stage once again, and the re-opening of relations between America and Cuba is a large step towards ending a half-century old foreign policy that utterly, utterly failed. Obama realized the futility of continuing this policy, and boldly moved to end it ― even traveling to Cuba personally to cement this part of his presidential legacy. Reopening our embassy was, to us, the Best Government Dollar Spent last year.


   Boldest Political Tactic

We could go international with this one and hand it to “Brexit,” but we gave Brexit an award last week, so we’ll look to domestic politics instead.

We have two awards in this category, both of them for Republicans. Sorry Democrats, but when the primary voters rejected Bernie, they also rejected any sort of boldness in their 2016 politics. To their loss, we might add.

Instead, we have to give Trump the Boldest Political Tactic ― and for three reasons, to boot. First, his tactic of “lie your face off and not care who corrects it” was undoubtedly the boldest thing seen in American politics since perhaps Teddy Roosevelt’s antics. Second, his tactic of “reverse your position so many times nobody has any freakin’ idea where you stand on it” was equally as bold. And finally, Trump’s decision after he had locked up the nomination not to “pivot to the center” (as most presidential candidates do when the primaries are over), but instead to “pivot to the absolute fringe” was breathtakingly bold, no matter what you thought of the people and groups he started pandering to. So, all around, Trump’s entire campaign wins a Boldest Political Tactic award for sheer brazenness.

Our second award goes to Senate Republicans, for just refusing to vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. The chattering classes gasped when they flat-out admitted that this was what they were going to do ― while Antonin Scalia’s body was still warm. Predictions were made that they’d pay a heavy political price for such naked and unprecedented partisanship, but these predictions (for the most part) turned out to be false. Not only was this one of the Boldest Political Tactics of the year, it worked.


   Best Idea

Um, Bernie Sanders’s entire platform?

We could just generically give Best Idea to “Populism,” since so many people define it in different ways.

Our actual runner-up in this category is a $15-an-hour minimum wage for everybody. You can live on that. You just can’t, on what the minimum wage is at now. Several states have passed laws upping their minimum wage either by legislation or by referendum, and their economies have not collapsed. This idea isn’t really new, but the addition of California and New York (or, at least, New York City) to the ranks of $15-for-all was a big step in the right direction this year.

But this year we have to award Best Idea to the legalization of recreational marijuana for adult use. Legalization had its biggest year ever in 2016, and it was barely treated as a news story because the idea has become so commonplace. Colorado and Washington state blazed the pioneering path, Oregon and Alaska followed, but this year four out of five legalization ballot initiatives passed ― Nevada, California (making weed legal on the entire West Coast, all the way up to Alaska), as well as Maine and Massachusetts (the first two East Coast states to jump on this tax receipt bonanza). The War On Weed is now doomed to extinction. We’ve still got a long way to go, but when fully one-fifth of the nation’s population can legally buy recreational weed, the writing on the wall is clear to see. Marijuana legalization ballot initiatives were the Best Idea of 2016, hands down.


   Worst Idea

It was truly a banner crop of Worst Idea candidates, starting with “the notion that Donald Trump can be president” easily leading the list. Because there are so many, we’ll just mention each briefly in passing here before handing out the award.

Slapping China with a 45-percent tariff.

Letting Trump pick his own cabinet ― that’s a pretty bad idea, obviously.

North Carolina’s “bathroom ordinance,” which took down the Republican governor this year.

California’s “jungle primary” system, which pitted two Democrats (and no Republicans) against each other for a Senate seat this year.

Looking back in time, John McCain naming Sarah Palin as his running mate, which set the bar so low for who could be considered presidential that it really set up the run of Trump.

The concept that there were three or four “lanes” in the Republican primary, and all a candidate had to do was win their lane (whether the establishment, Tea Party, social conservative, or whatever lane) ― while ignoring Donald Trump ― and the Republican nomination was theirs. That was a pretty bad idea, in retrospective.

Bill Clinton deciding to take a stroll across the tarmac and visit Loretta Lynch’s plane. Bad idea, Bubba ― with disastrous consequences.

Hillary Clinton’s praise of Henry Kissinger ― in a Democratic primary debate of all places. Oh, and Hillary praising Nancy Reagan for “all she did for AIDS” when she was, in fact, a major impediment to addressing the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Both monumentally stupid ideas.

The government forcing tech companies to break their customers’ encryption. Apple thankfully wasn’t put to the test (the feds cracked the data on their own), but this is going to be a bigger and bigger problem in the future.

Trying to “claw back” signup bonuses given to members of the military to re-enlist while America was fighting two wars. This his got to be the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard of, politically.

Those are all pretty bad ideas. But the Worst Idea was ― thankfully ― pretty much completely ignored. We hesitate to even draw attention to it now, because we’d hate to be any sort of reason anyone revived such a stupid (and, so-far, unnoticed) idea.

In June of 2016, Newt Gingrich (as he is wont to do) uttered a brain-bogglingly stupid idea, in the midst of all the rest of his usual blather and nonsense, proposed reviving the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC). We wrote a rather long article explaining the idea itself and why it was so terrifyingly wrong, saying in part:

For those unfamiliar with the name, the House Un-American Activities Committee, or “HUAAC” (sometimes spelled “HUAC”) was one of the most disgraceful episodes in all of American history. In fact, I consider the entire concept of the committee to be one of the most un-American and tyrannical overreaches of the federal government of (at the very least) the entire twentieth century. I’m not alone in this, either, as in 1959 none other than Harry Truman (after he left the presidency) called HUAAC the “most un-American thing in the country today.” If you never learned about HUAAC in school, think Joe McCarthy and all the red-baiting anti-communist fervor. Think Hollywood blacklists. Think Japanese internment. Some of the most shameful events of the century either came straight out of HUAAC or were closely linked to the hysteria it generated.

. . .

If America ever got back into a boots-on-the-ground war again, with hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers in a Muslim land (a distinct possibility no matter who becomes president), then the committee would easily shift gears to begin investigations of any groups opposed to such a war (remember Code Pink and other anti-war groups being targeted, roughly 10-15 years ago?). Who knows where a new HUAAC would stop? Again, if controlled by Republicans, they could easily make the case that pretty much any liberal group they didn’t agree with was, by their definition, “un-American.”

This is why a new HUAAC is such a monstrously dangerous idea. Its very existence ― right there in the name of the committee for all to see ― would be to determine what was acceptably “American” and what was “un-American.” That very concept is about as un-American as can be imagined. What gives some right-wing politician (or, for that matter, some left-wing politician) the right to determine what is acceptably “American” and what is not? You won’t find that anywhere in the text of the Constitution, that’s for sure.

Thankfully enough, nobody else seemed to even notice Newt’s bad idea. Like most of his off-the-cuff brain farts, it was completely ignored by the media. Thankfully. With a President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan, the last thing we need right now is to give hotheads in the House the power to determine what is “American” and “un-American.”

Worst Idea of 2016 by a longshot was Newt’s “let’s bring back HUAAC.” The very concept is frightening. Thank your lucky stars nobody noticed it at the time, that’s all we can say.


   Sorry To See You Go

In a professional sense, we are certainly going to be sorry to see Obama leave the Oval Office, that’s for sure. But, as in the Oscars, this category is really about notable deaths during 2016.

We wrote a whole article earlier this week on the non-political figures we’re sorry to see go (which mostly centered on Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer).

In the political world, we lost John Glenn and Janet Reno this year. Also (for his political views, not for his boxing) we have to note the passage of Mohammed Ali. Tragically, British Member of Parliament Jo Cox was brutally assassinated for her “remain” stance on Brexit. And 49 people who did nothing more than go to a nightclub in Florida became terrorism’s worst American victims this year.

From the world of journalism, we are still deeply mourning the passage of Gwen Ifill, one of the most cheerful television news anchors (and also one of the sharpest) we’ve ever seen.

But rather than making this a catchall award this year, we are specifically giving the Sorry To See You Go award this year to John McLaughlin, who created this list of year-end awards on his political chatfest show The McLaughlin Group. While we seldom agreed with John’s political position (instead cheering for panel regulars Eleanor Clift and Clarence Page), we always would listen to what he had to say. He wasn’t always completely coherent (he did even dabble in conspiracy theory, at times), but he was always entertaining to listen to. We miss the McLaughlin Group, and we most especially are missing the fact that there are no official 2016 McLaughlin awards being broadcast in the final two weekends of the year. It was always fun to see who Pat Buchanan gave awards to, and always fun to see if any of our awards matched any on the real show. That will no longer happen, sadly, which is why for the first time since we started these homage columns, we are giving Sorry To See You Go to a single person ― John McLaughlin. Requiescat in pace, John. As you always closed your show with, we bid you the final: “Bye-bye!”


   15 Minutes Of Fame

There were a few of these from the course of the year, from Harambe the Gorilla to Pokémon Go. Scott Baio probably deserves inclusion. Feel free to make your own additions, as this is a catchall category.

We’d give two 15 Minutes Of Fame awards out ourselves, to the Khans who made such a powerful anti-Trump statement (in their grief over losing their son) at the Democratic National Convention, and to Ken Bone, the guy in the sweater at one of the general election presidential debates. Both proved Andy Warhol right by reaping their 15 Minutes Of Fame this year.


   Best Spin

We honestly hate to give her two awards, really we do. We cringe at the thought of awarding her anything, in fact, especially two positive ones (one “Best” and one “Most”).

But the Best Spin in the entire political universe wasn’t an actual answer to a journalist’s question. It was a human being. Because Kellyanne Conway is actually political spin in human form. She’s that good at it. She embodies spin. In the future, you’ll look up “political spin” in the dictionary, and her smiling face will be all the explanation necessary.

There was really nobody else even in the same ballpark. Kellyanne Conway could sell icemakers to Eskimos. She could sell clothes at a nudist resort. She sold the American electorate on the idea that Trump was an acceptable choice for president, which nobody else had managed to do.

She is, as we said, spin personified. Best Spin of the year goes to Kellyanne Conway in a unanimous decision.


   Most Honest Person

This one was easy, because it was quantified. Hillary Clinton was the Most Honest Person on the campaign trail this year. Well, depending on how you counted, Bernie could also have been said to have been Most Honest (in some tallies), but we gave Bernie this award last year, so fair is fair.

Hillary Clinton ― dubbed “Crooked Hillary” by her opponent ― was measurably the Most Honest Person running for president. The scorekeepers gave her the fewest lies and the most truths from the campaign trail.

Donald Trump (no surprise) was the least honest person running (this includes everyone from the primaries, just to clarify).


   Most Overrated

There were quite a few candidates for Most Overrated this year. Hillary Clinton, to name a big one. Jeb Bush for another. The entire concept of how wonderfully deep the “GOP bench” was ― when none of them could beat Trump. Ben Carson certainly springs to mind as being vastly overrated as a politician.

But we’re going with an entire field of study in politics this year, because “public opinion polling” was the Most Overrated thing we can think of. We are not alone in stating that our trust in the correctness of polls has been deeply shaken by the election results. This wasn’t a failure of a single poll or even a failure in a single state. This was across the board. Everyone got it wrong. All of them. People who are highly compensated to let the rest of us know what the public mood is, in fact, actually screwed the pooch in 2016.

Polling’s high regard might never recover, in fact. People across the political spectrum might just decide to ignore the polls altogether. This could be a fatal blow to the entire polling industry, but that remains to be seen. For now, the Most Overrated of 2016 were the presidential polls.


   Most Underrated

Since we gave this award to Donald Trump last year, we feel there’s no need to repeat this time around.

There were a few minor candidates in this field (Ivanka Trump, Michelle Obama, and Joe Biden), but once again we have to award Most Underrated to an intangible. Because “voter anger” was the clear winner this year. The polling certainly didn’t reflect it (see previous award), the media didn’t pick up on it, but it was there to see in all those thousands of miles of “flyover country” regularly disdained by coastal media elites. If you drove around rural America you saw a whole lot of Trump signs and virtually no Hillary signs this year. The support and excitement Trump generated (much of it negative, feeding into voter anger) was a lot more profound than any of us realized until it was too late.

The angry voter was indeed the Most Underrated force in American politics last year.



Finally (finally!) we come to the last category. Anyone still reading this should go ahead and award themselves Most Stamina In Reading An Insanely Long Column award for doing so (ahem).

Before making 2017 predictions, we always review our own record to see how we did last time around. Here were our predictions for 2016, from last year’s column:

I’m doubling down on a bad prediction made last year, and once again predicting that Paul Ryan will be successful in reining in the Tea Partiers. This will mean Congress begins to function in a much more normal way that it has for the entire Boehner speakership. Ryan will be cut much more slack by the Tea Partiers, and things will get done without all the pointless drama.

The economy will continue to slowly improve, so much so that it becomes a secondary issue (at best) in the presidential campaign. Voters will start caring about other issues more than the economy, in other words.

Sadly, the frequency of mass shootings will not abate, meaning we get a big one every couple of weeks, as some sort of hellish “new normal.”

The Islamic State will keep losing ground (in Iraq, especially), and will lose two of their three biggest Iraqi cities (Mosul, Fallujah, and Ramadi). Ramadi is close to being liberated even now, so this may actually happen in 2015. But the main “capital” of the Islamic State in Syria will not be liberated next year.

Barack Obama will get a big setback next summer, as the Supreme Court rules against his plans to revamp immigration and deportation policy. The conservatives on the court will argue he is overstepping his prosecutorial discretion, and they will decide against Obama.

And I’ve saved the biggest ones for last: election predictions!

Donald Trump will easily become the Republican presidential nominee, shocking many inside the Beltway. He will name an outsider for his veep choice (Jesse Ventura, maybe?), and the Republican National Convention will be the most interesting in decades, as the party establishment rends its garments and pulls its hair in one way or another.

Hillary Clinton will also skate to her own nomination. She’ll pick someone from a swing state to be her running mate (Ohio, or maybe Florida?).

Five states (including, at the very least, California and Maine) will legalize recreational marijuana use by ballot initiative. One other state (Vermont or Rhode Island, most likely) will legalize marijuana through their state legislature.

Democrats will take back the Senate, although their margin will be very thin. Democrats will pick up seats in the House, but they will fail to retake the chamber.

And, lastly, Hillary Clinton becomes President-Elect Clinton, with a landslide in the Electoral College where she gets over 350 (but not as high as 400) out of 538.

So, let’s see how I did. There was less pointless drama in the House this year, as the Tea Partiers mostly kept quiet. However, nothing much got done. So I’ll give myself only half a point for this one.

The economy did continue to improve, but it was front-and-center in both campaigns, from income inequality on the left to protectionism on trade on the right. Have to say I got that one wrong.

That mass shooting one is both vague and depressing, so I’m not even going to include it in the scoring ― it’s impossibly to quantify.

I came closest to a perfect prediction on the Islamic State, I have to say. They lost both Ramadi and Fallujah, and Mosul is under attack right now (but has not fallen). Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto “capital” is still under their control as well.

Obama did lose on the Supreme Court, but with only eight justices, so it didn’t really set a legal precedent. Still, I’m awarding myself a full point for this one.

Donald Trump did easily become the GOP nominee, but went ultra-conventional for his veep pick, so only half a point here. There was indeed some garment-rending at both conventions this year, as well.

Hillary Clinton didn’t exactly “skate” to the nomination, but she got there in the end. She also picked a swing state veep candidate (and Tim Kaine did deliver Virginia for the Dems), so we’re going to award a full point here as well.

Recreational marijuana was only legalized in four states (not five), and no legislature actually did so. So only half a point is warranted here, I feel.

Democrats did pick up seats in the House, but failed to take the Senate. Only half a point for that.

And that last prediction, obviously, gets no credit whatsoever. Thank you, James Comey.

Let’s see, where does that leave our record? Ten total predictions, with one disqualified for being too vague (and depressing). Out of nine, I had three come true, four come only half-true, and four where I just was talking through my hat. That’s a total of five right out of nine, which is (at least) better than half.

I do have to point out, in defense of my prognostication record, the article I wrote exactly one year ago today, which was titled “How Trump Could Win It All.” I listed four things which could derail a Hillary Clinton candidacy, and came pretty close on two of them. The first on my list was “F.B.I. investigation concludes,” where I said of the result: “If it comes out in October, the damage may be impossible for Hillary to overcome.”

Two others didn’t really affect the election (”Economic downturn” and “Terrorist attack”), but my fourth item was a “Health problem” for Hillary. I predicted: “If Hillary Clinton collapsed at the podium ― on camera ― while giving a speech in mid-October, Donald Trump will certainly not be shy about ripping into Clinton for her ‘weakness’ (as he would surely put it).” This did indeed happen, although it happened in September, at the 9/11 memorial event.

But while all of that boosts my prediction confidence level, it doesn’t count because it wasn’t in the year-end awards column. So let’s move on from looking back and instead cast our eyes into the future. Here are my predictions for 2017. Most interesting suggestion I got from my readers for this was vague but also very amusing: “[2017] will be like watching someone on a rollercoaster getting a root canal.” Ouch! Here are my predictions for next year:

Trump’s inauguration will be devoid of big-name celebrities, and Trump will be petulant about this snub. This is pretty much a lock already, in fact. There will be clashes between Trump supporters and Trump protesters at the actual Inauguration ceremony, out in the crowd.

Paul Ryan will be able to have Trump sign pretty much anything he wants for a certain period of time. The Republican Congress will attempt to pass their entire agenda, and whatever makes it out of the Senate alive will be signed by Trump, at least until the summer.

After this point, Trump is going to wage a very large and public battle with congressional Republicans over something or another that he wants to do but they think is a bad idea. I have no idea what issue this will center around, but I think after the honeymoon period between Ryan and Trump, things are going to get a lot more contentious.

Paul Ryan will step down as speaker before the end of the year, because the Tea Partiers will revolt against establishment Republicans once again. Whoever replaces him will be far less effective, though.

There will be a major scandal involving one of Trump’s children and the accusation that the Trump family is nakedly selling “pay to play” access. Trump will deny it all ever happened.

The stock market will rise throughout the honeymoon period (with the Dow hitting over 22,000), but will make a major correction downward before year’s end (Dow below its level when Trump took office).

Republicans in Congress will pass a bill supposedly killing Obamacare, but with at least a two-year waiting period before it takes effect. They will not, however, hold one single floor vote on any replacement plan in either chamber before year’s end.

Whatever Trump does in Syria will make the situation worse. In addition, Trump will face one international crisis where he fails miserably, and Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain will rip into Trump like a chainsaw in the aftermath.

Trump will continue to tweet, unfiltered. Nobody will be able to wrest this power away from him, because it will be the most enjoyable thing about being president, to him.

And finally, to double down on one I got wrong last year, a state legislature (in a state where ballot initiatives don’t exist) will legalize recreational marijuana. My best guess for which state this is going to be would be Rhode Island.

OK, that’s it for this year! Have a happy new year, everyone. And, one last time, to end in true McLaughlin fashion we say to all of you:


Chris Weigant


If you’re interested in traveling down Memory Lane, here are all the previous years of this awards column:

2016 ― [Part 1]
2015 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2014 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2013 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2012 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2011 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2010 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2009 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2008 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2007 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]
2006 ― [Part 1] [Part 2]


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