The 2022 High School Yearbook of American Politics

It wasn’t exactly a feel-good year. With brutal inflation, the war in Ukraine, periodic pandemic surges, gun massacres and the Supreme Court’s ruling that women do not have a right to bodily autonomy, 2022 had its dark spots. Then again, we avoided a presidential impeachment, and no one stormed the Capitol trying to overthrow the government. So that was a step up. Plus, Sarah Palin lost her House race. Twice.

As always, at every step there were political players and events that stood out from the general chaos in ways good, bad and bizarre. It is once again time to recognize these special few.

Most Egregious Nepo Couple
Clarence & Ginni Thomas
With the Trump clan out of the White House, this category was competitive once more. But ultimately the Thomases pulled the win, in part as a lifetime achievement award. While the Jan. 6 hearings cast a fresh spotlight on the conflicts between Ginni’s wing-nut activism and her husband’s role as neutral arbiter of the law, she has been riding his robetails for decades.

Best New Imaginary Government Agency
Nancy Pelosi’s “Gazpacho Police”
Tomato, tomahto. Gestapo, gazpacho. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene may not be much of a legislator, but that gal is one heckuva creative linguist.

Most Expensive Midlife Crisis
Elon Musk
The standard cliché is for an aging man to buy an expensive sports car. But what if he already owns a company that makes expensive sports cars? Mr. Musk opted to drop $44 billion on a social media platform he has no clue how to run in an effort to paint himself as a free-speech crusader. All he has achieved thus far is to fuel rumors of Twitter’s demise, damage Tesla and convince much of the world that he is less mad genius than narcissistic ass. Well played.

Biggest Winner
Ron DeSantis
Florida’s governor romped to re-election, capturing even the traditionally blue Miami region. With national Republicans drooling all over him, Mr. DeSantis is perfectly positioned to run for the Big Chair in 2024. The ever-looming question: What is Donald Trump going to do about it?

Biggest Loser
Donald Trump
His legal troubles are piling up. He backed a bunch of losers in the midterms. That upstart DeSantis is eating into his presidential polling numbers. And his fancy new NFT trading cards have been widely mocked. In a word: sad.

Biggest Electoral X Factor
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision
By overturning Roe v. Wade, the conservative justices made abortion a red-hot campaign topic that mobilized pro-choice voters and damaged Republicans in the midterms. Here’s hoping this is the start of an electoral trend.

Most Likely to Wind Up a Tin-Pot Dictator
Kari Lake
The Republican contender for governor of Arizona looked so promising as a next-generation MAGA demagogue. She had the charisma, the media savvy, the antidemocratic tendencies, the love of conspiracy theories and a loose relationship with the truth. But she lost, and her claims of voter fraud are going nowhere fast. Time to see if Tucker Carlson needs a co-host?

Most Outrageous Political Stunt
Migrants on Martha’s Vineyard
Was Ron DeSantis’s flying a group of hapless migrants to this playground of the rich and famous cruel and sketchy? Absolutely. But it also drew public attention to the border crisis and outraged blue-state America, both of which served his purposes.

Most Impressive Survivor
Brian Kemp
Georgia’s governor not only prevailed against Donald Trump’s crusade to unseat him but also emerged with his brand enhanced. Victory and vindication have rarely smelled sweeter.

Most Stylish Exit
Nancy Pelosi
After 19 years herding the Democratic cats, America’s first female speaker and perennial badass is passing the leadership torch. The House is unlikely to produce a leader even half as effective any time soon.

Top Con Man
George Santos — if that’s even his real name
Pick a campaign claim by the representative-elect from New York’s Third Congressional District, and chances are it was false. Veteran of Citigroup and Goldman Sachs? Nope. Beleaguered landlord with 13 properties? Nope. College grad? Nope. Lost four employees in the Pulse nightclub shooting? Nope. Mysteries remain. There is an ongoing debate about his claiming to be Jewish — or was it Jew-ish? And it’s still unclear how, with a long trail of unpaid debts, he was in a position to loan his campaign $700,000. Even in a Republican Party trained to embrace “alternative facts,” this guy is testing the limits.

Best Reality Show
The Jan. 6 committee hearings
There may have been only two Republican lawmakers on the House panel, but there was a whole host of Republican consultants, lawyers and former officials on the witness list. And these folks had many disturbing things to say about Donald Trump’s scheming to overturn the 2020 election. Like some dystopian “Schoolhouse Rock!” video, the proceedings offered an extended civics lesson in how not to run a democracy.

Most Likely to Appear in a Future Season of ‘White Lotus’
Donald Trump Jr. and his bride-to-be, Kimberly Guilfoyle
Of course, the real genius would be to set the whole season at Mar-a-Lago, co-starring Javanka, Melania and the rest.

Best Electoral Joke
Dr. Oz
One word: Crudité.

Worst Electoral Joke
Herschel Walker
A guy who is accused by multiple women of abusive or threatening behavior (much of which he denies); revealed to have apparently semisecret kids; alleged to have paid for women to have abortions (which he also denies) — despite his anti-abortion politics — and seems to lie as casually as most folks breathe should never have been a serious contender for the Senate. Full stop.

Least Surprising Electoral Outcome
Florida going red.

Most Surprising Electoral Outcome
New York going red.

Biggest Political Gambler
Kyrsten Sinema
It’s one thing to be a perennial burr in your party’s backside. It’s quite another to quit the party and try to go it alone as an independent. Even in a politically quirky place like Arizona, the electoral system is not kind to third-party players.

Most Underestimated
Joe Biden. Again.
This year’s policy wins included the CHIPS Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the first major gun safety legislation in decades, an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act and a law to protect same-sex and interracial marriage. As promised, he put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. And, as the midterms heated up, he kept his head down as the Republicans’ red wave shrank to more of a pink dribble. You have to give the boring, moderate, pragmatic old guy his due.

Best Political Euphemism
A tie!
The Republican National Committee pooh-poohing the Jan. 6 insurgency as “legitimate political discourse” looked tough to beat. But then came election season, and “candidate quality” roared into contention as the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s martini-dry nod to his party’s weak Senate field.

Most Likely to Have a Miserable 2023
Hunter Biden
The new Republican House majority has one aim for the next Congress: paralyze the Biden administration with investigations. The president’s son Hunter makes for a juicy target. Expect Hunter and his infamous laptop to be the pet topic of Ms. Taylor Greene et al for the foreseeable future.

Kevin McCarthy
With Republicans’ super-skinny House majority, the next speaker will need to spend a painful amount of time sucking up to the conference’s lunatic fringe. Mr. McCarthy desperately wants the gig, but his best hope for a bearable 2023 might be to lose the speaker’s race. Would that be humiliating? Sure. But it would almost certainly be less scarring than trying to wrangle all the wing nuts.

Stupidest Faux Outrage
Tucker Carlson
His freak-out over the rise of “less sexy” M&M mascots. Yep. You read that right.

Best Karmic Smackdown
Alex Jones
He was ordered to pay nearly $1.5 billion to the Sandy Hook families (and an F.B.I. agent) whom he has spent years tormenting with crackpot claims that the 2012 mass shooting was a hoax.

Cringiest Hitler Fanboy
The rap star formerly known as Kanye West has been flirting with antisemitism for a while. But he really upped his game in early December, when, in a sit-down with Alex Jones, he shared his affection for Hitler and the Nazis — while wearing a bondage hood no less.

Most Shameless Christmas Grift
The aforementioned NFT trading cards that Donald Trump rolled out this holiday season for the low, low price of $99!

Happy New Year to all our winners — and to all the rest of us who endured the entire political circus.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Back to top button