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
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 as “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.