President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stand on the balcony of the White House to watch the partial solar eclipse in Washington on Aug. 21. An aide reminded the president not to look directly at the sun without protective glasses.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images
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It's become an annual tradition here to pause during the holiday season and remember the year's most preposterous, awkward and silly moments in political news.
It's fair to say that it gets weirder every time.
In our polarized era, it’s an ever-escalating challenge to single out the absurd moments that people of all political stripes can agree are worthy of a good old-fashioned “LOL what?” Our criteria: Was it totally ridiculous, internet-breaking and ultimately reasonably harmless to a functioning democracy? Then count it.
So, with no further ado, we present to you Our crazy year in politics: 2017.
Okay, let’s face it. Picking the most surreal White House moment of 2017 is like picking the most ridiculous thing that happened in Florida this month (we’re lookin’ at you, Drunk Opossum.) There are a LOT of options.
There was the time the leader of the free world tweeted the non-word “Covfefe” at 12:06am, resulting in an official explanation that “the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.” There was the time then-press secretary Sean Spicer was rumored to have hidden in a bush to avoid reporters, resulting in a Washington Post correction dutifully clarifying that Spicer was “among bushes near television sets on the White House grounds, not 'in the bushes,' as the story originally stated.” And, of course, there was the coining of a quintessential Trumpian phrase that will forever live in infamy: “alternative facts.”
But perhaps the ridiculous moment that best crystallized the ethos of the Trump White House was on August 21, 2017, when a divided nation set aside its differences to share a cosmic event that reminded all of us of our place in the vast universe: the first total solar eclipse to sweep the United States in 99 years. To be a part of the most-watched celestial event in American history, one had to keep in mind only one rule, a rule that was repeated to the point of parody by experts in the weeks leading up to it: “Don’t look directly at the sun.”
Cut to President Donald J. Trump, standing on the Truman Balcony, sans protective eyewear, squinting directly at the sun as an off-screen aide feebly warned “Don’t look!”
Trump, along with his wife and son Barron, eventually donned the Jetsons-like glasses required for safe eclipse viewing. But for one moment of comedic gold, Trump reminded us that rules are made to be broken — even if those rules literally keep you from going blind.
There was a distant, dreamy time when a wildly profane celebrity’s out-of-the-blue announcement of a pending political campaign would have been recognized as an elaborate publicity stunt. But not so this year, when Michigan native Robert Ritchie — also known as Kid Rock — told voters that he was the right “pimp of the nation” to represent the state in the United States Senate.
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In fairness, if a man can be elected president after being caught on tape describing his boorish pawing of women's intimate parts, why preclude someone from being elected to the Senate just because he once penned a ditty called “Balls in Your Mouth”? Some news coverage solemnly pondered whether the political climate was actually perfect for the “Bawitdaba” rocker, and some even polled Mr. Rock’s statewide favorability to gauge his chances.
To put it charitably, things have gotten a little rough for Chris Christie. Late in his tenure as New Jersey’s governor, the onetime political rock star was reduced to an almost defiant wallow after becoming the most unpopular governor in the history of the state. He openly snarked at his would-be GOP successor, dismissed poll numbers as irrelevant and once boasted of his self-restraint after he declined to dump his nachos on a heckler. So it’s fitting that one of the most memorable moments of his final year in office came when journalists photographed him enjoying a deserted beach that he had ordered closed during a budget crisis. Aerial photos of Christie — sunning in a beach chair with his family and peering up at the plane that captured the image — perfectly encapsulated Christie’s transformation from “tells-it-like-it-is” to “tells-you-where-to-shove-it.”
Making the whole incident even more damning was Christie’s initial denial of the beach trip later that same day, when he told a reporter he “didn’t get any sun today.” When confronted with the photo, a Christie spokesman offered an explanation surely worth of the Flack Equivocation Hall of Fame. “He did not get any sun,” spokesman Brian Murray said. “He had a baseball hat on.” Magnificent.
The Trump White House has had more turnovers in 2017 than the Cleveland Browns, but — even more than the dramatic departures of Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon and Seb Gorka — it was the spectacular flameout of Trump confidante Anthony Scaramucci that truly captivated the nation. There was, after all, something uniquely Trumpian about the Wall Street financier: the voluminous coiffure and aviator sunglasses, the fondness for luxury steakhouses, the extravagant adjectives uttered with the gooey vowels of a classic Noo Yawk accent.
A colorful outsider with no previous experience (outside of hosting a television show) stepping into a pressure-cooker of a job with global implications? What could go wrong?!
The Mooch’s tenure ultimately lasted as long as a family vacation, but somehow managed to include divorce drama, invocations of the Old Testament, pledges to “fire everybody,” pleas to plug leaks in deference to his Roman Catholicism (for some reason), and claims that he’s seen the president of the United States “throw a dead spiral through a tire.” But, of course, the pièce de résistance was Scaramucci’s unsolicited expletive-rich rant to the New Yorker, in which he memorably suggested that Steve Bannon habitually engaged in acts of oral self-love. That interview got Scaramucci fired, but forever scarred the nation with a mental image we can all agree we could have lived without.
In 2016, Ben Carson gifted us all with one of the year’s purest moments of political comedy when he missed his cue to walk onstage at an ABC News Republican debate. (Hilarity ensued.) This year, the HUD Secretary once again made headlines when he fell victim to another silly botched departure: this one from an elevator in a Miami public housing development during a tour of the facility.
Carson, whose languid calm was memorialized in Jay Pharaoh’s Saturday Night Live parody, reportedly spent 20 minutes stuck in the cramped elevator with six other people before being rescued by emergency crews. The tableau was made even more bizarre when Alonzo Mourning (yes, that Alonzo Mourning, who been scheduled to go on the tour with Carson but arrived late) was left nervously awaiting the results of the emergency extraction outside the door.
Since time immemorial, unearthing embarrassing quotes and video of campaign foes has been perhaps the spiciest of the political dark arts. But when you combine a wildly competitive Georgia special election with a 30 year-old candidate whose college a cappella group had a fondness for light sabers and badly-acted parody videos, it’s a recipe for some pretty spectacular overreach. There were ultimately plenty of headwinds against Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate in the race to replace Tom Price: he didn’t live in the district itself and his only significant experience was as a congressional staffer who could be credibly accused of puffing up his resume.
But in one of its opening TV ad salvos, a Republican super PAC instead unearthed grainy video of a brotastic 20-something Ossoff earnestly professing that his spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon, “ran four kegs by DOPS in under 3 parsecs.” The dopey Han Solo impression — bested in cheesiness only by his Wookie sidekick’s carpet-like costume — was lifted from the kind of painfully silly collegiate skit that makes many a once-rambunctious millennial cringe. And while the ad may have served some small purpose in reminding the district’s voters of the babyfaced candidate’s youth, the national backlash for the cheap shot was swifter than the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. So, oppo researchers: Before you hit send on that goofy Facebook clip from someone’s junior prom, consider the possibility that... it’s a trap!
There are embarrassing social media moments, and there are social media moments that should make any sentient being break out in a cold and clammy sweat at the mere thought of being associated with them. That’s what Sen. Ted Cruz faced late on a weekday night in September, when his official Senate Twitter account “liked” a video clip described chastely by the Washington Post as featuring “a sectional sofa, the pornographic actress Cory Chase, her fictitious nude stepdaughter, and a very energetic young man.”
The tiny red heart indicating, um, approval of the video was later deleted, but not before the socially conservative senator was ridiculed far and wide. Cruz clarified that the person who apparently enjoyed the pornographic short film was “not me” and described the incident as a “staffing issue.”