Opinion | The Best, Worst and Weirdest Political Stories of 2023


It has been such a special political year, brimming with extraordinary, even historic moments. From an ex-president indicted to a Senate staffer busted for making porn at work, each fresh development made you proud to be an American.

Singling out the exceptional events and players was tougher than ever. I mean, when Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t even merit a mention …. But making hard calls is part of my job, and the true standouts deserve a shout-out.

Most Likely to Be Picked Last in Gym Class: Matt Gaetz

Many Americans fantasize about taking up their pitchforks and storming the boss’s office. But in the history of Congress, only this Florida Man has succeeded — metaphorically, of course — leading a coup against his own party’s speaker. The ouster of Kevin McCarthy, followed by the chaotic scramble for his replacement, became a slow-rolling, breathtaking fiasco that ground the House to a halt and made the entire Republican conference look like a pack of petty, pouty, incompetent preschoolers. Way to build the brand, guys!

Most Fabulous Fabulist: George Santos

Many politicians lie, but this recently ousted congressman from New York approached the task with a baroque panache of which few could even conceive. Falsely asserting that the Sept. 11 attacks “claimed” his mother’s life? That he was a college volleyball star? That he was a producer of the Broadway atrocity “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”? So macabre. So pointless. So bizarre. Cannot wait to see his next act.

Slowest Learner: Robert Menendez

Let’s say you got yourself indicted on federal corruption charges that, luckily for you, ultimately resulted in a hung jury. What lesson would you learn from the experience? The senior senator from New Jersey seems to have taken his 2017 near miss as a license to go all in on the sketchy behavior. He was indicted again, and accused of a yearslong bribery scheme in which he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for serving the interests of three New Jersey businessmen — and of the government of Egypt. Mr. Menendez insists he has done nothing wrong and that the government is engaged in “primitive hunting.” Anything’s possible. But the gold bars and envelopes fat with cash stashed around his house are not a good look.

Worst Date Night: Lauren Boebert

Props to the Colorado congresswoman for putting the thrill back into taking your kids to the theater: Hey, honey, are you sure our “Beetlejuice” seats are in the no-groping section?

Least Likely to Succeed: The Republican-led House

Let’s give it up for one of the most dysfunctional, unproductive Congresses of modern times!

Least Surprising Downfall: Kevin McCarthy

At this point, what is left for me to say about this tragically hollow figure? He sold his soul and betrayed American democracy for nine lousy months in the speaker’s chair. Once dethroned, he wasted no time packing up his toys and slinking out of the House — which may have been his first smart move in years.

Most Boring Reboot: Impeachment, the Joe Biden version

Also known as Donald Trump’s revenge.

Worst Catchphrase: Bidenomics

No, no, no. The administration geniuses who embraced this sad portmanteau should be tried for political malpractice. And even if you can’t stop the spread, people, don’t let the president tweet about it!

Biggest Turnaround: John Fetterman

The early months of 2023 were rough for the Pennsylvania senator, who was struggling with the lingering effects of a stroke and wound up hospitalized for depression. Even many of his fans were wondering: Was he up to the job? But at some point he found his mojo and began calling out political B.S. wherever he perceived it, often to the dismay of progressives. He has come out swinging for Israel, called out fellow Democrats who fail to grasp that “it isn’t xenophobic to be concerned about the border” and dinged Gavin Newsom, the attention-thirsty governor of California. He denounced the planned acquisition of U.S. Steel by a Japanese company. And he went hard at his colleague Mr. Menendez for allegedly being a corrupt sleazeball, including paying Mr. Santos to record a troll-y video advising “Bobby from New Jersey” on how to ride out a scandal. Agree with him or not, the guy is en fuego.

Best Poison Pen: Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney

We have a tie! First came “Romney: A Reckoning,” McKay Coppins’s book in which the retiring Republican senator and erstwhile presidential nominee laments the sad devolution of his political party. Then, just in time for the holiday gifting season, Ms. Cheney topped the best-seller list with “Oath and Honor” — which isn’t, as its subtitle proclaims, “A Memoir and a Warning” so much as an evisceration of Mr. McCarthy and other Trump toadies. So festive!

Biggest Masochist: Mike Johnson

At this point, what sensible person would want to be speaker of the House?

Best Breakout Performance: Nikki Haley

As the lone woman in the Republican presidential primary debates, she repeatedly outshone the other candidates, giving a big boost to her campaign for top Trump understudy.

Biggest Flop: Ron DeSantis

After all the hype, it turns out that “Trump without the crazy” is just an awkward, aggrieved, opportunistic, anti-charismatic, aspiring autocrat with a mile-wide cruel streak and the people skills of Mark Zuckerberg crossed with Richard Nixon.

Most Likely to Be Given an Atomic Wedgie: Vivek Ramaswamy

If Ms. Haley doesn’t get him, Chris Christie will.

Most Pathetic Nepo Baby: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Seriously, man: Put your shirt back on, spare us the anti-vax lunacy and stop pretending you are some courageous anti-establishment rebel outsider. Your last name is Kennedy, for God’s sake.

Most Problematic Nepo Baby: Hunter Biden

A lot of families have their own version of Hunter. And the president’s unconditional love for his troubled child is heartwarming. That said, with an impeachment investigation and his re-election campaign heating up, Biden père needs to finally figure out how to handle questions and accusations about his younger son without losing his cool or sounding defensive. Also, standing by Hunter is one thing. Letting him slouch around at a state dinner is quite another.

Biggest Loser: Fox News

The network agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems. But even without a messy trial, the case revealed plenty about the conservative outlet’s willingness to lie to viewers. Plus, in the process, the Murdochs felt compelled to cut loose their biggest, most unhinged MAGA star, Tucker Carlson — much to the disappointment of his “postmenopausal fans.” And oh, yeah, there is another defamation suit, this one from Smartmatic, still grinding on. So much winning.

Runner-Up: Rudy Giuliani

This month, a federal jury ordered the man previously known as America’s mayor to pay two former Georgia election workers $148 million in damages for defaming them in the course of spreading election fraud lies. Immediately after the ruling, Mr. Giuliani re-upped his lies about the women, prompting them to sue him again. A couple of days later, he filed for bankruptcy protection. It’s all a bold strategy. Let’s see if it pays off for him.

Biggest Legal Curveball: The Colorado Supreme Court

On Dec. 19, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Mr. Trump had participated in an insurrection and is thus barred from holding office again under the 14th amendment. The stunner of a ruling disqualifies the Republican front-runner from appearing on the state’s presidential primary ballot. Similar suits in other states have fallen flat, and the Trump campaign said it is appealing this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court — which, it should be noted, includes three justices appointed by Mr. Trump. Just when you thought the 2024 election couldn’t get any weirder.

Speaking of the MAGA king: As usual, he was ineligible for our regular awards, seeing as how he operates in a political class all his own. That said, it seems appropriate to recognize his historic status as the first former president to be criminally indicted. Big time. We’re talking 91 felony counts, state and federal, ranging from obstruction of justice to racketeering. Is this achievement more or less notable than his being the only president to earn two impeachments? Hard to say. But at this rate, to distinguish himself in 2024, Mr. Trump will need to go really big — perhaps by running for president from prison?

Source photographs: Haley: Madeleine Hordinski for The New York Times; Kennedy: Mark Makela/Reuters; Giuliani: Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press.

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