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Who made Cillizza's 2018 naughty list

CNN's Chris Cillizza reveals who was naughty and who was nice in US politics in 2018.

Posted: Dec 27, 2018 4:09 PM
Updated: Dec 27, 2018 4:28 PM

2018 is almost over! We're going to make it to 2019! Hooray for us -- or something.

But before we forget 2018 completely, it's worth revisiting the year that was. And in the finest tradition of the most important time in all of our lives -- I'm talking about high school, obvi -- I'm handing out some 2018 superlatives.

Let's do this!

Best campaign of 2018

Winner: Rick Scott

Florida is the swingiest big state in the country, and Scott just keeps on winning races there. After serving two terms as governor, his race against Sen. Bill Nelson (D) looked like something of an uphill climb given the Democratic winds blowing nationwide and Scott's closeness to President Donald Trump.

But Scott, as he always does, wrote big personal checks to the campaign and emphasized that he wanted to go to Washington to shake things up while Nelson had spent decades in elected office and just couldn't be a change agent. Scott, somehow, was able to avoid the worst of the associations with Trump -- despite relentless attacks from Nelson's campaign and a panoply of Democratic-aligned super PACs and other outside groups.

Scott didn't win by much -- around 10,000 votes out of more than 8 million cast -- but he won. Nelson had faced weak GOP challengers in each of his past two races, yes. But knocking off an incumbent in a swing state is the hardest thing to do in politics. And Scott did it.

Honorable mention: Mikie Sherrill, who ran a flawless campaign for the House in New Jersey, winning a Republican-held open seat by 15(!) points. She is regarded as an up-and-comer within the House Democratic caucus.

Worst campaign of 2018

Winner: Kris Kobach

It's hard to lose a statewide race as a Republican in Kansas. Like, you have to be actively bad -- and turn away lots and lots of people who regularly vote Republican -- to even come close to losing.

But Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, did all that and more -- losing to a relatively unknown state senator named Laura Kelly in the fall campaign. Kobach had ousted the sitting Republican governor in a primary earlier in the year by emphasizing his close ties to Trump and his unwavering conservative principles. (Kobach chaired Trump's short-lived commission tasked with investigating election fraud.)

In the general election, Kobach refused to budge off his ideological warrior image -- despite the fact that the state had tried that sort of person as governor (Sam Brownback) with disastrous results. Kelly, on the other hand, focused on meat-and-potatoes issues like education funding and Medicaid expansion.

Kobach's loss amounted to a gross misreading of the Kansas electorate, or worse, a belief that he could tell people in the state what they needed to care about.

Best performance by someone running in 2020 who pretended they are not running in 2020

Winner: Amy Klobuchar

One of the most delightful dances in modern politics is this: People who are running for president pretend they haven't made up their mind about running for president.

Take, for example, John Kasich, who told a radio host in November that he DOESN'T have a "burning desire to be president" but he DOES have a "burning desire to make a difference for our country." Cool story, dude.

Or Bernie Sanders, who delivered this humblebrag: "If there's somebody else who appears who can, for whatever reason, do a better job than me, I'll work my ass off to elect him or her. If it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run."

But the winner of this year's Point superlative? Amy Klobuchar, whose longtime political adviser gave her hometown paper this gem of a statement: "Many people have approached Amy about running for president but right now she is still thanking people who helped her lead a major winning ticket in Minnesota." Still thanking! That's a new one.

But wait, it gets better!

"I'm not giving you a deadline," Klobuchar told Axios' Mike Allen in mid-December when asked about the 2020 campaign. "But I do like your socks and your tie. That's really nice. But that's not a diversion at all."

Best campaign ad

Winner: A literal dumpster fire

A little on the nose here by Democratic Minnesota Senate candidate Richard Painter. But somehow still fitting for 2018.

He didn't win his Senate race. And he didn't come close. But he wins our Point award. Well-deserved.

Best Oval Office visitors

Winner: The Kardashian-Wests!

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian met with Donald Trump and other senior advisers in May to advocate on behalf of low-level drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who had served 21 years in prison. A week later, Trump commuted Johnson's sentence. She gets results!

Not to be outdone, her husband, Kanye West, made his own trip to the Oval Office in October, presumably also to talk about prison reform. This time, the cameras were rolling. The rapper delivered a 10-minute soliloquy on, um, hydrogen planes, alternative universes and the 13th Amendment (among LOTS of other things).

It was UNREAL. So, a tie. But really, Kanye won.

Best loss that was actually a win

Winner: Beto O'Rourke

The breakout star of the political year didn't actually win anything. But Beto O'Rourke's 2-point loss to Senator Ted Cruz in the red state of Texas transformed him from a little-known congressman into a national Democratic darling.

Beto's timing couldn't be more perfect: The 2020 race is just beginning, and the Democratic presidential field is wide open. Beto O'Rourke may have lost his Senate race, but his 2018 couldn't have gone much better.

Best come-from-behind victory

Winner: Kyrsten Sinema

When we all finally crawled into bed on the (very late) night of the midterm elections, it looked like Republican Martha McSally was headed toward a victory in the hugely important race for Arizona Senate. But six days later, it became clear that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema had actually won the Grand Canyon State race, flipping outgoing Senator Jeff Flake's seat from red to blue.

Sinema's come-from-behind win, and others like it in Montana and Nevada, give Democrats hope that even after losing two seats in 2018, they can gain enough in 2020 to take back the Senate.

Plot twist: McSally *did* end up making it into the upcoming Senate -- Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her after outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl said he plans to resign from the Senate seat that he was appointed to following Sen. John McCain's death in August.

Sinema will be sworn in first, Ducey said, making her the state's senior senator.

Best White House briefing special guest

Winner: Ronny Jackson

The former presidential physician had quite the year. First, he briefed the press about President Trump's physical health. Which is, in case you were wondering, totally and completely perfect. Trump liked that. A lot. So he nominated Jackson to lead the VA! That went, er, less well. Jackson withdrew his nomination in April after a flurry of allegations about his professional conduct.

But for one shining hour in January, all eyes were on Dr. Ronny Jackson as he stood at the White House podium and told the press things like, "I had absolutely no concerns about his cognitive ability or his, you know, his neurological function." Also, that Trump is "more enthusiastic about the diet part than the exercise part" of his health care regimen, "but we're going to do both."

When asked how a borderline obese man on cholesterol-lowering medication could still be considered in "excellent" health, Jackson said, "It is called genetics. I don't know. Some people have just great genes."

Worst PR advice

Winner: Cindy Hyde-Smith's team

Whoever told Cindy Hyde-Smith to stick to her statement after a gaffe in which she said of a supporter, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row."

That advice led to this epically cringeworthy public appearance.


Biggest surprise out of the Mueller probe

Winner: Paul Manafort's ostrich coat

Why tell you about Paul Manafort's $15,000 ostrich coat, when I can SHOW YOU Paul Manafort's $15,000 ostrich coat?

OK, it kind of just looks like a coat. BUT IT WAS FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Which is why prosecutors in the case against Trump's former campaign chairman worked very hard to show it to the jury as evidence of his lavish lifestyle. Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud in August.

Best instance of history repeating

Winner: "But her emails," Ivanka edition

If your last name is Trump and you work in the White House, the ONLY thing you definitely can't do is use a private email address to do government business.

And yet, that's exactly what Ivanka Trump, eldest daughter to the President and senior adviser in the White House did in 2017.

When called on it, Ivanka told White House officials she was unaware of the rules governing use of private emails to do official business. Which is LITERALLY impossible, given that her father spent the entire 2016 campaign savaging Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to do business while serving as secretary of state.

And here's one fun superlative fact to end on...

In 8th grade, I was named "best dressed -- boy."

The lesson here: Superlatives are in the eye of the beholder.

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