Welcome back to the second part of our year-end awards column! For those who may have missed it, check out Part 1 from last week to see what awards have already been handed out.
Since these columns are always monstrously long, let's just dive right back into the 2017 McLaughlin awards, shall we?
Destined For Political Stardom
We're going to hand this award out in generic fashion, to "women in politics." As a direct result of both the resistance movement against Trumpism and also of the #MeToo scandals, there is a new and encouraging wave of women entering politics right now. Women are signing up to run for office in huge numbers, at all levels of government. This is likely going to lead to a whole bunch of them getting elected next November. Women voters (especially in the suburbs) are going to be the determining factor in getting women candidates elected, as well.
Back in the 1990s, we had a similar year that was dubbed "The Year Of The Women." My bet is that we're going to see the second "Year Of The Women" in politics in 2018. Maybe they'll call it the "Nevertheless, She Persisted" year, who knows?
Destined For Political Oblivion
Steve Bannon, hopefully.
Roy Moore, definitely!
Kidding aside, I have two Destined For Political Oblivion awards to hand out, one for each side of the aisle. It may sound harsh, but Doug Jones is quite likely heading for political oblivion, the next time he has to face Alabama voters. Unless he runs against Roy Moore again, the likelihood is that his deep red state will revert to form next time around and elect a Republican. After all, the same thing happened to Scott Brown in Massachusetts after his upset victory. Of course, this won't happen for three years, but eventually Jones will lose his Senate seat to a normal Republican candidate.
On the Republican side, I'm going a little further out on a limb and predicting that Paul Ryan will not only step down as speaker, but also will not run for re-election. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I think the rumors floating around Washington that he's thinking of stepping down will prove to be true. He never really wanted the job anyway, but the strangest thing is that he may be the only politician ever who honestly wants "to spend more time with his family." His kids are growing up, and Ryan hates that he's missing out on large parts of their childhood, so he may actually resign to be a better father -- something a whole bunch of politicians have claimed, over the years -- but for Ryan, it might actually be true.
Best Political Theater
Taken literally, the award would have to go to Saturday Night Live, which has been knocking the political sketch comedy out of the park on a regular basis, all year long. Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump were two of the high points of the year in political comedy, that's for sure.
But taken a little less literally, as we normally do, there were two strong candidates for Best Political Theater. The resistance to the Republican "repeal and replace Obamacare" bills was both incredibly impressive and also incredibly effective. People in wheelchairs getting arrested in congressional offices certainly forced everyone in the building to stop and think about what they were trying to do. And, in the end, they succeeded in shaming three GOP senators into voting the whole plan down.
That was impressive, but there was one bit of political theater that really deserves the Best Political Theater award -- the Women's March on Washington. One woman had the idea to protest Donald Trump becoming president, and it spread like wildfire. The crowd was bigger than the one that showed up for the Inauguration itself, in fact. That's stunning, when you think about it.
The Women's March really set the tone for the resistance to Trump for the entire year, in fact. For that they deserve the Best Political Theater award.
Worst Political Theater
Um... that gargoyle Disney just unveiled in their animatronic "Hall Of Presidents" that is supposed to be Trump?
Kidding aside, the most revolting thing in this category to us was the farce of Melania Trump's "anti-cyberbullying" campaign. I mean, has she met her husband?
Trump tossing paper towels to Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico (and telling them to "have a good time") was pretty bad political theater, too.
Pretty much every time Trump speaks to the press -- including his three press conferences -- was pretty bad theater, that's for sure. As were those cringeworthy cabinet meetings where every department head in the room is forced to compete with each other to see who can praise the "Dear Leader" more -- that was something straight out of a third-world dictatorship, really.
But all of these could not compare to the worst political theater of the year, which happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. From the tiki torches to the white supremacists chanting to the running battle in the streets to the death of a counterprotester by vehicular homicide, Charlottesville was without question the Worst Political Theater. And that's not even counting the boneheaded reaction from Trump, either.
Worst Political Scandal
While the #MeToo phenomenon might qualify, it was a more broad-based scandal, since it hit the entertainment world, the news media, and politics simultaneously.
Instead, the Worst Political Scandal was all the Russian ties to the Trump campaign and the Trump White House. Of course, this could easily become the Worst Political Scandal of 2018 as well, but even so far it has easily been the biggest scandal in Washington all year long. From the firing of James Comey to watching Jeff Sessions squirm before Congress, this cloud has remained over the White House throughout the year. Bob Mueller is really only getting started, so there will be a lot more shoes to drop as it unfolds, but the Russian influence over Trump and all around him was easily the Worst Political Scandal of the year.
Most Underreported Story
What with the constant unending firehose of nonsense emanating from the White House, there were several important stories that were all but ignored last year by the mainstream media. Some received a little attention, but none received the attention they truly deserved.
Very early in 2017, a story broke about Mike Pence using a private, unsecured email account to discuss national security issues. Even worse was the fact that this email account had been hacked. For all the ink spilled over Hillary Clinton's email problems, you'd think the media would have had a field day with this one. Sadly, you'd be wrong. Who even remembers the story now?
A strong contender for the Most Underreported Story of the year was the woefully inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Even the Katrina response was better, in some respects. These are American citizens, and the media halfheartedly covered the story for about a week, and then moved on. The people of Puerto Rico still haven't moved on from the storm -- they're still struggling with getting clean water and power to all parts of the island. It goes without saying that if this were taking place in Florida or South Carolina, the media would have covered a lot more than just the first week of the aftermath.
I did what I could to point out the fact that in Trump's original tax-cutting proposal (and in some of the draft bills in both the House and Senate), the Alternative Minimum Tax was completely abolished. This would have meant -- from the only recent Trump tax return that has been made public -- that Trump would have saved a whopping 81 percent of the taxes he paid. That's saving four dollars out of five, folks. But few in the media noticed this, even though it was the easiest thing to spot when comparing Trump's taxes to his tax proposal.
Of course, if Donald Trump were judging this category, he'd have all kinds of amusing (and fanciful) nominations, but we'd have to agree with one of them. Last year saw the Islamic State's "caliphate" reduced to almost zero, in terms of a physical footprint on the map. They used to control major portions of both Syria and Iraq. Now they don't. They've been pushed entirely out of Iraq, and only hold a few scattered towns (and some desert wasteland) in Syria. Now, this was largely due to two major factors: President Obama's war plan (which Trump didn't change much at all) and the tacit divvying up of Syrian territory between Russia and the United States ("You guys can bomb here, but over the river is where we'll bomb, so our planes don't get into dogfights...."). Still, the progress has been impressive and overwhelming. The defeat of the Islamic State's state does not mean the eradication of the group, by any means, but it does cut off most of their income and shows them to be a loser on the world stage, making it harder to entice new recruits. But, strangely, other than some coverage of the fall of Mosul and Raqqa, the American media largely ignored this progress on the ground.
The situation in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia were two major stories that were also mostly ignored. Saudi Arabia is waging war in Yemen with American weapons, and yet it is little discussed here. This is all part of a regional proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians, so it does have larger implications. In Saudi Arabia itself, the new monarch is moving to consolidate his power (arresting hundreds, even members of the royal family) as well as modernize their image slightly to the rest of the world (women will soon be allowed to drive, for instance). This will be a long-term story worth keeping an eye on, since the Saudis are one of the lynchpins of American foreign policy in the region.
But it is a larger foreign policy issue that wins the Most Underreported Story of the year -- America's retreat from the world stage, and from its post-WWII leadership role in global politics. Trump promised to be a disruptive force, and nowhere is this more apparent than when considering America's shrinking presence in world affairs. Trump had to be convinced that NATO was even worthwhile, to say nothing of the United Nations. Trump (and Rex Tillerson) seem to want to dismantle most of the State Department, here at home. The rest of the planet is recoiling in horror from the Trump administration, and there are several countries stepping into the void that Trump has left. Germany is more influential in Europe at this point than the United States. China is busy making all sorts of deals because America has walked away from world trade. Militarily, Trump is stuck to the tar baby that is Kim Jong Un, but everyone can see that Trump really has no viable options other than begging the Chinese to do something about it. That's not exactly projecting American power.
On issue after issue, from the Paris climate accords to NATO to trade to the United Nations, the rest of the world is paying less and less attention to American interests in general. This period now seems akin to the psychological shock to Great Britain when it realized, after World War II, that its empire was disappearing and its status as a world power was on a serious decline. Trump's lack of leadership and lack of understanding of how the world works has led to a similar very serious decline in American influence on the world stage.
That should be a major media story. But it isn't. Each individual action by Trump is covered, but nobody has taken the time to weave it all together into a "big picture" story, which is why America's foreign policy decline is the Most Underreported Story of the year.
Most Overreported Story
This one is easy.
The Most Overreported Story of 2017 was anything and everything that Donald Trump tweeted. He fires off a few sentences and the cable news world goes crazy for days on end. Over and over again. Whenever bad news hit, Trump successfully changed the subject by picking a target almost at random and unloading some bile upon them. Then there'd be a back-and-forth for days, by the end of which nobody would be talking about the bad news the tweet was designed to deflect from. The Most Overreported Story was without a doubt Trump's Twitter feed.
Biggest Government Waste
This one is also pretty easy. There were scandals over Trump officials wasting millions on luxury private travel expenses. Also, Trump spending something like one in every three days playing golf has led to enormous costs for the Secret Service, which is definitely scandalous.
But the Biggest Government Waste is easily the "Election Integrity Commission," a blue-ribbon panel created because Donald Trump couldn't face the hard cold fact that he lost to Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. To his mind, this meant that there must have been millions of fraudulent votes from illegal immigrants. So he created a commission to dig into this fantasy.
There are plenty of things in the federal government which waste lots of money on a regular basis (the Pentagon, to name just one), so do we really need to create new and inventive ways to waste taxpayer money? This may be the first time in history an actual commission was created just because the president is so deeply insecure. The Election Integrity Commission is, hands-down, the Biggest Government Waste of the year.
Best Government Dollar Spent
While we could go generic here and give the Best Government Dollar Spent award to something like the Congressional Budget Office or Medicaid, there were two stronger candidates for the award.
The first is Bob Mueller's investigation. Best money spent all year, in a lot of ways. But instead, I'm going to get very specific and give the Best Government Dollar Spent award to all the money spent to take down Confederate statues.
Special recognition is due to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, for taking the lead in this effort. Not only did he oversee the removal of four Confederate statues, he took great pains to explain why they were coming down, in case it was unclear to anyone. From an opinion article he wrote at the time:
The record is clear: New Orleans's Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P. G. T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy. These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it. They are an inaccurate recitation of our past, an affront to our present and a poor prescription for our future.
The right course, then, is to excise these symbols of injustice. The Battle of Liberty Place monument was not built to commemorate the fallen law enforcement officers of the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia. It was meant to honor members of the Crescent City White League, the citizens who killed them. That kind of "honor" has no place in an American city. So, last month, we took the monument down.
And in a speech he gave defending the statues' removal, he was even more explicit in his views:
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone's lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.
Bravo, Mayor Landrieu! The era of revering the Civil War for all the wrong reasons is seemingly coming to a close. All across the South, statues came down -- either quietly in the dead of night, or accompanied by a last gasp of support from historical revisionists. But the main thing is they came down. Meaning no African-American has to see them while walking down a public sidewalk or in a public park anymore.
Best Government Dollar Spent of the whole year, by far.
Boldest Political Tactic
There was one incredibly bold political move earlier this year -- long before the sexual harassment scandals erupted, even. Noah Dyer, running for New Mexico governor (originally as a Democrat, but now as an Independent), created a web page on his campaign site titled "Scandal and Controversy." Here's just one portion of what he wrote there:
Noah has had both deep and casual sexual experiences with all kinds of women. He is an advocate of open relationships. He's had group sex and sex with married women. He has sent and received intimate texts and pictures, and occasionally recorded video during sex.
Dyer announced his campaign on Valentine's Day, in the form of a "love letter" to New Mexicans, which whispered sweet nothings to the voters, including: "I want to make dinner for you, rub your feet." Creepy or not, you've got to admit it's a pretty bold political tactic (again, Dyer did so long before the Harvey Weinstein story broke).
The boldest thing Donald Trump did all year was to fire James Comey, of course. The boldest thing the Democrats did was when Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi sold Trump on a budget deal that absolutely yanked the rug out from under Republicans (including Trump's Treasury secretary, who was in the room).
I almost gave this award to Steve Bannon, for the bold tactic of trying to destroy his own political party by any means necessary. Isn't it amusing when political revolutions turn and devour their own?
But, really, the Boldest Political Tactic of the year was the "Dreamers" -- the children affected by Trump scrapping the DACA program. The tactic didn't begin in 2017, but it certainly became more noticeable. Every single one of the Dreamers faces the possibility of arrest and deportation on a daily basis. But instead of keeping their heads down in the hopes of escaping notice, they are speaking out. That takes a lot of guts, when you consider the risk they run by doing so. By publicly standing up, they are making themselves even more of a target for arrest. How many other protesters face such dire consequences merely by speaking out?
The Dreamers are tired of living in the shadows. They thought they had a reprieve under President Obama, but Trump yanked that out from under them. Their last chance is to convince Congress to act, which is a longshot at best, these days.
But for having the guts to put their entire future on the line just by speaking out, the Dreamers win the Boldest Political Tactic of the year.
The Twenty-Fifth Amendment? Tom Steyer's impeachment ads? Heh.
I have two awards in this category, because I couldn't decide between them. The first goes to the congressional staffers who put together the Indivisible site. They know firsthand what works and what does not when it comes to popular opinion swaying Congress. So they designed a playbook for anyone and everyone to use to do so. This concept spread like wildfire, and Indivisible groups sprang up across the country. After the Women's March on Washington, this was the perfect place for people to put their energies, and it seemed to pay off in a big way in the defeat of the Republican "repeal and replace" bill. The resistance against Trump (or, as some style it, "The Resistance") is made up of many different parts, all working together toward a common goal. A big part of that emerged from the grassroots this year as a direct result of the Indivisible website. This Best Idea went viral, in a big way.
My second Best Idea award goes to four Democrats who took it upon themselves to do what the national party absolutely refused to -- examine what went wrong in the 2016 election, and attempt to chart a course to correct some of the errors made. Early in the year, the Democratic National Committee saw a leadership battle, but since that time there has been no real effort to create a "post-mortem" or "autopsy" of the 2016 election. This has only exacerbated the split between fans of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton within the party. To be blunt, Democrats cannot afford such factionalism right now.
The new chair of the D.N.C., Tom Perez, obviously didn't put examining the failures (and lessons learned) from 2016 very high on his priorities list. This is going to result in prolonging the bad feelings between the Bernie and Hillary camps. So the four authors -- three from within the party apparatus and one from the outside -- stepped into the void and created their own autopsy document. It is a serious effort which tries to be fair to both sides, and it focuses on examining what direction the party really should consider taking next year. This document is well worth reading, for anyone concerned about the future of the Democratic Party.
It was also such a great idea (since the party itself wouldn't do any serious self-examination) that it deserves a Best Idea award.
The Fyre Festival?
There were actually so many incredibly bad ideas this year that it's tough to even remember them all. The most obvious candidate would be the sum total of Donald Trump's agenda (which would include, but not be limited to: the Muslim travel ban, pulling out of the Paris climate accords, pardoning Joe Arpaio, throwing out DACA and leaving nothing in its place, Trump's wall, a transgender ban in the military, moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and -- obviously -- goading a nuclear-armed madman in North Korea into a possible shooting war). Oh, and supporting an accused child molester -- can't forget about that particular icing on the cake, can we?
The Republican Congress had some spectacularly bad ideas this year, too, including restoring gun-purchasing rights to people who have been deemed by a judge to be mentally unfit to even handle their own finances (much less a firearm). But the big one was obviously their entire repeal-and-replace fiasco, which ate up a majority of the congressional calendar and ended in disaster for the GOP.
But we're going a little more specific in this category, just because the idea is so downright offensive. A few months ago, the Labor Department quietly inducted Ronald Reagan into their "Hall of Honor." Alex Bastani, president of a government employees union group at the Labor Department correctly labeled this a "cruel act of industrial violence." He pointed out Reagan's shameful history of busting the air traffic controllers' union while president, and an even more shameful episode from Reagan's past, when he led the Screen Actors' Guild union:
Bastani made a good point when he said the "temple honoring the work of men and women who sacrificed themselves to create an American middle class and who championed the causes of America's... working poor, is not the appropriate arena for Ronald Reagan."
Speaking of communism, Bastani also noted Reagan's connection, as a union president, to one of the shameful episodes in recent American political history: the Red Scare.
"It is a historical fact that he surrendered the names of dues paying members to the House Committee on Un-American Activities -- a Joseph McCarthy orchestrated witch hunt," Bastani wrote. "We recognize Mr. Reagan had the right to pursue his own personal political agenda. However, he did not have the right to take these actions while representing union members who were being harassed and bullied by the federal government simply for exercising their first amendment rights."
Putting Ronald Reagan in a Labor hall of fame with people who actually deserve to be there was not just a travesty and a gigantic slap in the face to unions everywhere, it was also the Worst Idea of the entire year.
Sorry To See You Go
Normally, I fill this category with a list of celebrities who passed on during the year, along with some snarky comments about people leaving the world of politics in one way or another. But this year, I'm really sorriest to see one man go.
As recently as last January, America was still respected in the world. Our president was not an international laughingstock who had to be coddled like a colicky baby lest he get cranky with some world leader or another. The phrase "alternative facts" had not been uttered, since we all lived within the same reality together. In short, we had a president every American could be proud of, right up to noon on January 20th.
Which is why I'm pre-empting this entire category this year to say Sorry To See You Go, President Barack Obama. And I know I'm not alone in that sentiment, that's for sure.
15 Minutes Of Fame
This one is absurdly easy. There's really only one possibility, when you think about it. Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci lasted a little longer than 15 minutes in his White House job, but not by a whole lot. He wasn't even there long enough for Saturday Night Live to properly spoof him! In fact, in keeping with the foreshortened spirit of the 15 Minutes Of Fame award, that's all that really needs saying. So long, Mooch, we barely knew ya!
While Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders both created some jaw-dropping spin last year, for the second year running, the award simply must again go to Kellyanne Conway. And speaking of Saturday Night Live spoofs, the It takeoff trailer they did with Kellyanne as Pennywise the Clown was pretty downright frightening!
When announcing the award last year, I noted:
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.
Let's see... (thumbing through brand new dictionary)... yep, there she is! People like Spicer and Sanders on their best (or worst) day can't keep up with the whirlwind of spin that is Kellyanne. She proved this very early on, when responding to media laughter over Trump's megalomaniacal Inauguration crowd claims. Kellyanne patiently explained that Trump lives in a world of "alternative facts," which is about the Best Spin we've ever heard for "completely detached from reality." And she said it with her patented smile. As long as she's on the political scene, Kellyanne Conway might have a permanent lock on the Best Spin award, now that we think about it.
Most Honest Person
That kid in the street crying: "But the emperor has no clothes on" springs immediately to mind.
Last year's Most Honest Person (who might have been in the running for 15 Minutes Of Fame if it weren't for The Mooch owning the category) was San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz. She honestly called the entire Trump administration on their horse manure in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and she certainly did not pull her punches.
While the White House was proclaiming their response efforts in Puerto Rico were the "best ever," San Juan's mayor was wading through floodwaters saving her constituents' lives. The American media was somewhat lacking in their coverage, which might be explained by the fact that it was the third hurricane to hit America in a very short period of time. They were all sort of blurring together to the audience, to put this another way.
Cruz, however, personified the frustration at the lackadaisical federal response and she gave a few extraordinary media interviews where she told us exactly what was going on and exactly how she felt about it:
I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives. I am done being polite, I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell. We are dying here. If we don't get the food and the water into the people's hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying. We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.
Trump, of course -- being the class act that he is -- attacked Cruz for insufficiently praising his wonderfulness. Cruz responded in kind:
Tweet away your hate to mask your administration's mishandling of this humanitarian crisis. While you are amusing yourself throwing paper towels at us, your compatriots and the world are sending love and help our way. Condemn us to a slow death of non drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine while you keep others eager to help from reaching us since they face the impediment of the Jones Act.
Puerto Rico is still nowhere near recovered, more than two months later. The storm was of Brobdingnagian proportions, while Trump's response was utterly Lilliputian. Carmen Yulín Cruz pointed this out to all who would listen, and for doing so she is the Most Honest Person of last year.
I was going to hand this to Steve Bannon, for obvious reasons. But then it occurred to me to get a little metaphysical.
Because clearly the Most Overrated of the year was: "Donald Trump, in Donald Trump's own mind." Trump seems to not just love superlatives when describing himself, his family, his presidency, or anything he's ever said or done -- he seems to actually medically require them the same way you or I require oxygen to breathe.
Nothing is ever modest, with Trump. It's the best ever. The most fantastic the world has ever seen. Better than any president ever. Biggest crowds ever. Most stupendous achievements of all time. My favorite from the entire year was when Trump claimed, after being criticized for giving a purely political speech while standing in front of the C.I.A.'s wall honoring agents who gave their lives for their country, claimed that he had gotten "the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl." Wow. Talk about detached from reality, folks.
And that's just one tiny example. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of others from the past year alone. Trump does seem to live in a world of "alternative facts," where the entire universe revolves around him and him alone. Everything he does or touches immediately becomes the "best ever" or "biggest ever" or whatever. All facts to the contrary, of course, since Trump has not actually done much of anything superlative, to date. He got one Supreme Court justice confirmed, and one bill through Congress all year long, after all.
Trump's only valid claim to a superlative is debatable, but at least within the realm of possibility -- that he pulled off the biggest upset victory in presidential history. Historians might quibble (there was that whole "Dewey Defeats Truman" thing), but he could at least claim the biggest upset in a long time and have been taken seriously.
But Trump wasn't content with that. He claimed (inaccurately) that he actually won the popular vote somehow, that he won a landslide in the Electoral College, that he won the biggest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan, that he won the biggest electoral victory among Republicans since Ronald Reagan, that his Inaugural crowd was the biggest in all of American history, and that it didn't rain during the ceremony. None of it was true. All of these claims were pathetically easy to disprove, but inside the confines of Trump's mind, they were incredibly historic milestones that he had set.
So while there were certainly others in Washington and in politics that were indeed overrated, the Most Overrated of them all -- as evidenced by every easily-disprovable claim he makes, on an almost daily basis -- is the image of Donald Trump that lives within Donald Trump's fevered brain. So I guess he's earned his second superlative -- Most (Self-Referentially) Overrated.
The runner-up in the Most Underrated category is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as "Obamacare." Republicans tried to drive a stake through its heart for an inordinate amount of time this year, but what they instead achieved was driving its popularity to never-before-achieved heights. When the public learned how much they would be losing under the laughable "replace" part of the repeal-and-replace efforts, they recoiled in horror. Then they got mad and contacted their congressmen. Trump has been trying to sabotage it all year long, but even slashing the advertising budget and cutting the signup period in half didn't change Obamacare's popularity, as millions of people signed up on the exchanges once again. In polling, Obamacare is now solidly over 50 percent approval with the public -- something even Barack Obama never saw. So Obamacare was indeed underrated this year, by Republicans at any rate.
But the Most Underrated award goes to Democratic voters. Last year, there were six notable special elections, mostly to fill in vacancies left by Trump administration appointees (like Jeff Sessions). One of these was in a Democratic district (Kamala Harris got elected to the U. S. Senate, freeing up an appointment for Jerry Brown to make, and he elevated a congressman to her post), which went Democratic once again.
Four of the special elections were in deep red Republican House districts. One was in the Senate, in Alabama. The Republicans won all four of the House races, even the most expensive House race in history (in Georgia's sixth district). But here's the thing that many still haven't caught on to -- in every single one of these races, Democrats did a whole lot better than they usually do in such districts. They increased their share of the vote by double digits, even if they fell short in the end. The last race, of course, was the Alabama Senate race, which the Democrat actually won. This means the enthusiasm among the electorate is mostly being felt among Democratic voters. And if it holds true next November, it could usher in a shift in control of the House, the Senate, or possibly even both.
That concept would have seemed unimaginable, one year ago. The despair being felt by Democratic voters by Trump's election was deeply felt, and seemed crushing at times. But Democratic voters didn't give up, and they didn't stay home even for special elections. The party is attracting more votes from women, and more votes from wealthy and middle-class suburbanites. All of this bodes very well for the chances of a Democratic wave election next year.
The determination and the rage of the Democratic voters has been the Most Underrated all year long. It may in fact be underrated next year, as well. Right up to when the results are announced on Election Day.
Before making 2018 predictions, we always review our own record to see how we did last time around. Here were our predictions for 2017, from last year's column:
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.
Let's take these one by one and tote up how I did. Trump's Inauguration was devoid of celebrities, but it was also devoid of much of an audience, to boot. Trump did indeed react petulantly to this snub, and is still miffed about it, from all reports. There were some clashes in the streets, but the most dramatic snub of all was delivered the next day, when the Women's March On Washington took place. In any case, I'm awarding myself a "close enough" on this one.
Instead of Paul Ryan pulling Trump's strings, Trump pulled Ryan and McConnell's strings instead. Trump chased the pipe dream of "repeal and replace Obamacare" far longer than Ryan or McConnell wanted, fruitlessly in the end. By doing so, they wasted so much time that they essentially only accomplished one thing during the entire year, and that took until the final week in December. So I flat-out got this one wrong.
Likewise, the contention happened early in the year (over beating the dead horse of repeal-and-replace) and the part about Ryan passing bills (well, one bill, anyway) that he knows Trump will sign (even if Trump has no clue what is in them) happened later. So I can't even claim partial credit here.
Paul Ryan is still speaker, so I got that one wrong as well.
There was a major scandal involving one of Trump's children -- the meeting with the Russians. However, it wasn't pay-to-play, so I can only claim half credit on this one.
The stock market went up all year, so I missed that boat completely.
Republicans could not manage to pass any repeal-and-replace bill, obviously.
Trump wisely kept to Obama's basic war plan in Syria, and things didn't turn out all that bad. The North Korean situation, however, seems to qualify as an international crisis, although more of an ongoing one. Trump obviously has no clue what to do about "Rocket Man" (as he calls Kim Jong Un), but so far the situation hasn't (literally) exploded. Yet. So I can't claim credit for this prognostication.
Trump did continue to tweet, completely unfiltered. Nailed that one, although it wasn't that hard to predict, really.
I'm going to claim credit for the last one, even on a technicality. The Vermont legislature did indeed pass a recreational marijuana legalization bill -- the first in the country from a statehouse -- but the governor vetoed it. Still, that's close enough for government work, as they say.
So that's three and a half, out of ten. That's not that impressive a record, I fully admit. Let's see if I can do a bit better predicting what's going to happen in 2018.
The list of men revealed to be sexual predators will continue to grow, for at least the first few months of the year. The #MeToo movement has not yet come to an end, methinks.
The U.K. will come up with many creative ways to put off the invitation for Donald Trump to have a state visit. The idea is wildly unpopular in Britain, and it will not happen next year at all (for whatever stated reason, such as perhaps: "Oh, terribly sorry, Her Majesty is booked solid through 2021").
Bob Mueller's investigation will not be over any time soon. More indictments will be handed down, but the cloud hanging over the White House will still be present all the way through the midterms.
Trump will seethe, but will not in the end fire Mueller. During an election year, the fallout would be too disastrous for even Trump to contemplate.
The Supreme Court will rule that House districts in both Maryland and Wisconsin have so much bias to their boundaries that they are unconstitutional. This will have major consequences in the reapportionment after the 2020 Census.
John McCain will die while still a sitting U.S. senator. His interim replacement (if one is named) will not be Kelli Ward.
(This one is really me doubling down, since I already got it wrong for this year, I should mention.) The rumors turn out to be true, and Paul Ryan will announce he is not only stepping down from being speaker of the House, but also that he will not be seeking re-election to spend more time with his family. To the astonishment of all in Washington, he then does spend more quality time with his family. In November, Democratic candidate Randy "Iron 'Stache" Bryce wins Ryan's seat.
November is not just a wave election for Democrats, but a downright blue tsunami. Democrats pick up over 40 seats in the House. Pelosi will be challenged by a younger Democrat for the speaker's post in the leadership vote, but will easily beat back such a challenge and will reclaim the gavel in January of 2019.
Unfortunately, while Democrats defy all odds and actually pick up one seat in the Senate, this still leaves the Republicans just barely in control of the chamber, with a 50-50 tie. In other words, Mike Pence will be extra busy being the tiebreaker, from that point on.
OK, that's enough for this year. Have a happy new year, everyone! And 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:
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant