WASHINGTON — It’s difficult to describe politics in 2019 as anything but painful.
The nation is split exactly in half over President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Partisanship pervades the most fundamental questions about American values. And the Democratic debates are starting to make us all feel like Natasha Lyonne’s character in “Russian Doll,” living the same events over and over even as characters start to disappear inexplicably with each reboot. (Steve Bullock, we barely knew ya.)
But 2019 also had plenty of political stories that qualified as, well, laughable. Absurd. Preposterous. Darkly comedic, patently nutty or even just plain silly.
Each year, the NBC News Political Unit does its best to gather the year’s silliest, goofiest, most bizarre human behavior from America’s elected officials. Because as the decade draws to a close, we all could always use a laugh or two. Here are some of our favorites, in chronological order starting from last January:
Beto O’Rourke goes to the dentist
In early 2019, Beto O’Rourke’s viral social media presence, and his antagonizing of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the 2018 Senate race, had given his Democratic fans plenty of reasons to smile. After all, there had been a certain joyousness to his Insta-antics, such as skateboarding around a Whataburger parking lot or chowing down on guacamole.
But his public sharing of a trip to the dental hygienist was widely seen as less je ne sais quoi and more “TMI, dude.”
It wasn’t the last time that unvarnished access to O’Rourke’s every brain wave failed to age well. Eight months after the presidential hopeful declared, “Man, I’m just born to be in it” … he was right back out of it.
Ted Cruz ate that guy’s son
You can’t blame Cruz for trying to have a sense of humor about, well, Ted Cruz. After all, not every United States senator faces conspiracies claiming that he’s the Zodiac Killer or that his dad killed JFK. (The latter rumor was, of course, fueled by the very president to whom Cruz has irrevocably tied his political fortunes. Irony!)
But Cruz’s particular clapback to a particularly absurd online meme, featuring his photo and the text “this man ate my son,” may have been, uh, alarming to those who weren’t in on the joke.
“He was delicious!” Cruz responded.
Inevitably, all traces of fun were immediately lost after Cruz’s foes and fans devolved into a Twitter argument about the joke and who precisely “owned” whom. But, hey, points for trying?
John Delaney has no time for your fun and games
John Delaney is having a Very Serious Year. He’s been spending his time and considerable personal wealth running for the Democratic nomination, with very little to show for it. The strength of his feelings about the direction of the Democratic Party is matched only by his urgency to deadlift 350 pounds right now.
So perhaps we should not be surprised that his turn on the Iowa State Fair’s giant slide did not exactly yield the childlike glee that might grip a less serious person.
That whole Greenland thing
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When wide-eyed future generations ask about the Trump Era in American politics, wizened old political sages will tell the tale of the time the president of the United States suggested purchasing the ice-covered semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and compared the transaction to a “large real estate deal,” which prompted a transatlantic spat that in turn resulted in the abrupt cancellation of his state visit to Denmark.
Remember that? That happened.
The pen ain’t mightier
Those wizened old political sages will also tell the tale of the time the president of the United States displayed a doctored map of a deadly looming storm — clumsily altered with a Sharpie, reportedly by his own hand — because he was in a dispute with an Alabama outpost of the National Weather Service over conflicting Twitter messages.
Remember that? That also happened.
J’accuse, Monsieur Delecto!
Keeping up appearances on your social media accounts can be a real drag. Just ask someone with a “Finstagram,” or someone who decided to #deletefacebook, or probably Beto O’Rourke after that whole dentist escapade.
So it’s not wildly unusual that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, had an alias Twitter account that allowed him to be, in his description, a “lurker” on the site.
But not since Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner has a political figure chosen a spicier pseudonym for their secret online identity.
Was Mitt Romney really “Pierre Delecto”? At long last, he admitted, “C’est moi.”
Rudy Giuliani can’t stop butt-dialing people
Speaking of older Republican men’s relationship to technology: Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has spent a lot of time on his iPhone this year (he also has spent some time with said iPhone in an Apple Genius bar after forgetting his password).
But it turns out that some of his own phone calls occurred unbeknownst to Giuliani himself. NBC News reporter Rich Schapiro wrote in October that he received TWO separate accidental calls — colloquially known “butt-dials” — in which Giuliani could be heard saying phrases like “the problem is we need some money.”
Not to be outdone, some of the nation’s pre-eminent journalists chimed in to say: “Yes, I too have received a coveted Rudy Butt-Dial. But never one quite that good.”
Just say no
Yes, the methamphetamine crisis is a tragedy with a horrific human cost. And yes, they say that acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
But maybe the state government of South Dakota should have, y’know, asked a few more friends, “So what do you think of our new slogan to fight the meth crisis?” At least before spending half a million dollars on billboards reading “Meth. We’re on it.”
Inherit the Wind
American history is dotted with unsolved mysteries. Where is Jimmy Hoffa’s body? What’s really going on at Area 51? Did a congressman audibly pass gas during an appearance on MSNBC?
Theories and counter-theories abound on the internet, far too many to enumerate here. But if you find yourself bored during the holiday season, a Google search of “Swalwell” and “gas” is sure to provide a rip-roaring good time.
Feats of strength
Joe Biden apparently has a thing about challenging people to push-up contests.
Asked about his age back in July, he joked that he’d happily face off in one with Trump. But the mood wasn’t quite as light later in the year, after an 83-year-old Iowa man at a town hall event aggressively questioned Biden’s age and Hunter Biden’s dealings with Ukraine. “You’re a damn liar, man,” an angry Biden shot back, before suggesting a push-up contest or footrace. (There was also much dispute later about whether Biden also accused the man of being fat.)
To be fair, Biden isn’t the only 2020 presidential candidate who has mused about challenging a rival to engage in Feats of Strength. In August, Andrew Yang said he would challenge Trump to “any physical or mental feat under the sun.” He later added one exception: “Like, if there was a hot-air balloon that was rising and you needed to try and keep it on the ground, he would be better than me at that. Because he is so fat.”
When wide-eyed future generations ask about the Trump Era in American politics, those aforementioned wizened old political sages will surely not forget the tale of the time the president said this about toilets:
We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms where you turn the faucet on, in areas where there’s tremendous amounts of water, where the water rushes out to sea because you could never handle it. And you don’t get any water. You turn on the faucet; you don’t get any water. They take a shower and water comes dripping out. It’s dripping out — very quietly dripping out. People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion.
Honorable mentions: That time some teenagers were running an 89-year-old’s presidential campaign; an extremely gross story about a prank Beto O’Rourke allegedly played on his wife; Marianne Williamson’s “Girlfriend” shoutout; that very, VERY sparsely attended Deval Patrick event and Trump’s copyright dispute with the band Nickelback.
That’s in no way a complete list of the absurd things that happened this year, but there’s only so much room on the internet, after all.
From all of us here at the NBC News Political Unit, have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.
CORRECTION (Dec. 25, 2019, 9:23 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of an NBC News reporter. He is Rich Schapiro, not Shapiro.
Mandryk: 2020 election needs to take the politics out of the classroom – Regina Leader-Post
Article content continued
To be clear, there have been 85 new school capital projects announced in Saskatchewan compared with 32 school closures since 2008 after the Sask. Party took over — a period that has included unprecedented population growth.
And while New Democrat supporters might rightly be indignant about Sask. Party accusations of “NDP school closures” or playing politics with school openings, the NDP government wasn’t exactly shy about doing the same. (Political lore suggests certain high schools in Regina only exist because a local NDP MLA bitterly complained he was the only cabinet minister without a high school in his riding.)
Moreover, the current NDP surely has not been shy about distributing pre-election campaign literature that screams this government has “no solution for overcrowded classrooms” that now contributes mightily to the lack of safety during COVID-19.
Can the NDP credibly complain about dangers of classroom overcrowding while muttering about Sask. Party playing politics with school openings and closures?
And then there’s the little matter of the NDP campaign commitment to limit classroom size that would cost hundreds of millions in infrastructure and the hiring of teachers — a costly promise that may already becoming outdated by distance learning.
Of course, all this could inspire meaningful debate on education issuesthat isn’t driven by partisan politics. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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How RBG's death could radicalize American politics – POLITICO
“It means that we are going to war,” one influential Washington Democrat texted tonight when asked what the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg means. “They do this in the lame duck and I think Americans will rebel.”
The passion is understandable. Ginsburg was the most important and iconic Supreme Court Justice to liberals since Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the court. She was the Left’s Antonin Scalia. Replacing her with an ideological conservative — creating a 6-3 majority on the Court for the right — would have enormous policy consequences, and not just on abortion, but on civil rights, gun laws, regulation and many other issues.
Just a few years ago, when the situation was reversed and Scalia died during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mitch McConnell denied a Senate vote to Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Ginsburg has been ill for years and Democrats have been dreading the prospect of losing her before the 2020 election is settled.
Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Mitch McConnell made it clear Democrats fears were warranted. As McConnell had previously signaled publicly, he released a statement declaring, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
There’s some uncertainty about whether McConnell can cobble a majority of his 53 Republicans together to confirm a Ginsburg replacement. But his swift decision Friday night to reverse his 2016 position is likely to be met with two major reactions from Democrats, one short- and one long-term.
In the short term, the loss of the beloved Ginsburg, combined with McConnell’s hypocrisy, and the likelihood of the court shifting to the right, will enrage Democrats, both in the Senate and out in the country. In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will be under enormous pressure to respond to McConnell’s reversal with aggressive tactics.
“The question will be Chuck’s fortitude,” a Democratic strategist said. “He could shut down the Senate. A government spending bill is due in a couple weeks.”
There is a fierce debate about whether a Supreme Court battle motivates liberals or conservatives more. One conservative who supports Biden argued that dynamic favors the Democrats.
“When I heard that Scalia died I was fit to be tied because at that point we were looking at a conservative icon being replaced by Hillary Clinton,” he said. “It was like seeing your life flash before your eyes. It was terrifying. Now the Democrats are experiencing that. It is going to light the liberals on fire.”
Other Republicans argued that Trump already has the support of all the conservatives who back the president because of his court appointments. A fight over the Ginsburg replacement does little to add new supporters. Additionally, Trump’s political weakness this year is among college educated suburban voters, a constituency that is turned off by the idea of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.
But in the long-term, McConnell’s decision could have more far-ranging consequences.
“The winner of the election should nominate someone in January,” said John Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Anything else is a gross abuse of the Constitution and democratic principles.”
Since the Garland imbroglio there has been a bubbling debate on the left over how much to tinker with the Senate and the Supreme Court to redress what Democrats see as anti-majoritarian moves by McConnell and Republicans. The debate has pitted institutionalists against procedural radicals. McConnell will embolden the procedural radicals. Democrats are likely to become more united around several reforms that have divided them: ending the legislative filibuster, pushing through statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and modifying the Supreme Court to include more justices.
Not everything in politics hyped by the media is as big a deal as it seems. But RBG’s death is one of those cases where it may be even more consequential than reported. It will certainly alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, but it could also alter the course of a presidential election, transform the Senate, and turbocharge the politics of procedural radicalism.
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