WASHINGTON — This was a year full of deeply consequential political news stories. The contentious confirmation hearing of a new Supreme Court justice. A drumbeat of investigations into the president. A historic midterm election. The passing of some of Washington’s most revered luminaries.
And then there was also a whole lot of strange stuff.
Every year, the NBC News Political Unit takes a look back at the silliest, oddest and most absurd political stories of the past 12 months. Every year, it seems to get harder, with the nation's reserves of political oddballs and their confusing behavior seeming ever more inexhaustible. But here's our best shot after a year that was chock-full of #headdesk moments.
January: Ronny Jackson suggests that Trump could live for 200 years.
It may seem like an eternity ago, but it was only January 2018 when Dr. Ronny Jackson — then the primary physician to the president — said in a live news conference that President Donald Trump's "incredible genes" could sustain him into a second century of life.
Jackson suggested that Trump, a notorious McDonald's and Diet Coke enthusiast who reportedly believes that exercise saps the body’s finite energy resources, is blessed with a genetic makeup that would be the envy of the Greco-Roman gods. "I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old," Jackson said. “He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”
The performance so impressed his uncannily robust boss that Trump briefly tapped Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs until his nomination was derailed by allegations that he drank on the job and had created a hostile workplace environment.
May: Don Blankenship discovers new frontiers in painful campaign advertising.
By April, Don Blankenship, campaigning in the GOP Senate primary in West Virginia, could have handily secured the award for Worst Political Ad of 2018. He released a minute-long spot that featured perhaps the most unnatural dialogue captured on camera in human history. (Seriously, check it out. It's riveting stuff.)
Not content to rest on those dubious laurels, though, Blankenship also released a series of straight-to-camera ads in which — in a jumble of jump cuts overlaid with Blankenship's robotic monotone — he accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of catering to "China People" (McConnell's wife was born in Taipei) and dubbed the Kentucky Republican “Cocaine Mitch.”
Blankenship lost the GOP nomination to Patrick Morrisey, the state's attorney general. And as was inevitable, this story ended with McConnell's official team tweeting an image of the 76-year-old Kentucky senator enveloped in a cloud of white powder with the caption, “Thanks for playing, Don.”
June: Dennis Rodman weeps on live TV while promoting the North Korea summit, while wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat and a T-shirt promoting a marijuana cryptocurrency startup called “Potcoin.”
This actually happened.
Also June: A congressional candidate pepper-sprays himself in the face.
Colorado Democratic congressional candidate Levi Tillemann’s web video about school violence starts out innocuously enough. Soft piano music. A cute kid running in slow motion. And then, suddenly, there’s Tillemann on camera, getting pepper sprayed directly in the face.
(A helpful disclaimer on the screen warns: "This is dangerous. Do not attempt." We won't, we promise. We just wish we'd been a fly on the wall in the campaign meeting when the eureka moment was "Pepper spray yourself in the face.")
Still June: Scott Pruitt wants a used Trump Hotel mattress.
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There was no shortage of stories this year about Washington officials using their positions of power to stretch ethical boundaries. There was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson's $31,000 dining set, and California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter's use of campaign funds to fly his pet rabbit around.
But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s demand that a staffer find him a discounted — and used — "Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top" mattress may be the most inexplicable of all.
Other things Pruitt allegedly spent federal resources to hunt down: Ritz-Carlton moisturizing lotion and a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.
Pre-existing conditions, immigration policy and Nancy Pelosi's leadership were all defining issues in the 2018 midterms, but no campaign had quite the unique flair, the je ne sais quoi of the debate in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District race.
That's because the central Virginia contest included multiple references to one candidate’s fondness for images of a muscular and extremely well-endowed Sasquatch. It all started when eagle-eyed critics unearthed the questionable social media posts by Republican candidate Denver Riggleman. Things escalated upon the revelation that Riggleman had also authored something titled "Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him." His Democratic opponent publicly accused him of being a "devotee of Bigfoot erotica," while Riggleman insisted that the entire thing was an elaborate joke with some military buddies.
Riggleman was elected to the House on Nov. 6, by a 6.6 percent margin.
August: Kellyanne Conway tries to bash her own husband to The Washington Post ... without using her name.
It's not a surprise that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway gets a little irked when her attorney husband, George, tweets snarky things about her boss. What was surprising is that she tried to tell The Washington Post that his anti-Trump tweets verge on being a violation of their marriage vows — but she didn't actually want the comment attributed to her. Here's how it went down, per Post journalist Ben Terris.
Terris: You told me you found [George’s tweets] disrespectful.
Conway: It is disrespectful, it's a violation of basic decency, certainly, if not marital vows . . . as “a person familiar with their relationship.”
Terris: No, we’re on the record here. You can’t say after the fact “as someone familiar.”
Conway: I told you everything about his tweets was off the record.
Terris: No, that’s not true. That never happened.
Conway: Well, people do see it this way. People do see it that way, I don’t say I do, but people see it that way.
October: Kanye West delivers an off-the-cuff Oval Office speech that impresses even the president.
No one can say that rapper Kanye West suffers from a scarcity of unorthodox ideas. In an Oval Office meeting ostensibly on the topic of criminal justice, West — who had previously praised Trump for his "dragon energy" — discussed (in order): alternative universes, “male energy,” his Make America Great Again hat, Ralph Lauren, his deal with Adidas, Barack Obama wearing Polo-branded clothing, the 13th Amendment, “the dopest cars,” hydrogen-powered airplanes, four-dimensional chess and “how to be malleable in the infinite universe.”
Also October: Trump vs. umbrella.
Americans remained divided in their views of Trump this year, but one thing that may have brought the nation together was a moment of inexplicable umbrella-related behavior captured on video.
After striding up the stairs of Air Force One, umbrella aloft, the leader of the free world engaged in a half-hearted struggle to drag the open parasol through a narrow doorway before abandoning it entirely, still open, outside the plane.
The move was instantly confounding to social media users and likely anyone else who has ever seen an umbrella, given that the core attribute of such a portable rain-protection device — a technology which is at least 2,000 years old, by the way — is that it is collapsible.
November: Legendary brothel owner wins Nevada state assembly seat, despite being deceased.
Dennis Hof died in October after a joint campaign rally/birthday party that featured Grover Norquist, Joe Arpaio and porn actor Ron Jeremy. But the pro-Trump GOP candidate still managed to win his race for state assembly.
Also November: That time we found out that the acting attorney general of the United States was once on the advisory board of a company that advertised a "masculine toilet" designed to prevent "well-endowed men" from unwanted contact with porcelain or water.
This, too, is real.
December: Trump's "throwback Thursday."
Journalists had to make sure they weren't being duped by a parody account when, as chaos reigned in Washington over an impending government shutdown and an abrupt announcement that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria, the president's "@realDonaldTrump" Twitter account tweeted a video of Trump dressed as a farmer, wielding a pitchfork and singing the “Green Acres” theme during the 2005 Emmys.
"Omg," his 2005 duet partner, "Will & Grace" star Megan Mullally, tweeted in response.
That's hardly all the stories fit for this list, but it's a start.
From all of us to you: Have a happy holiday and a bright New Year.