Summing up the oddest, silliest and most head-scratching political moments of the year is an annual tradition here at NBCNews.com.
But let’s be honest. For as many of those moments as this campaign had, the aftermath of the presidential election has left a country divided over even the most ephemeral blips in every chaotic news cycle. How much joy could anyone really take in President-elect Donald Trump’s goofy tete-a-tete with Kanye West when it came against the backdrop of arguments about Russia’s role in undermining American democracy?
Even the moments in the presidential debates that became fodder for giggly social media memes — “bad hombres,” “nasty woman,” Hillary Clinton’s shimmy and Trump’s sniffles — now feel stale like Christmas leftovers.
And it would be foolish to ignore those who say the attention paid to kooky campaign moments is precisely what has eroded public trust in mainstream journalism.
Still, it’s hard to begrudge anyone needing a laugh, even if it comes after an election that showed that the American public can barely even agree on what’s funny anymore.
So, here’s our best shot at a Trump and Clinton-free(!) list of 2016 moments to remind us that we’re all human — even in politics.
This, friends, *this* is the pièce de résistance of 2016 comedy. Overall, the campaign’s estimated 1,274 GOP debates were characterized by a coarser humor. including the president-elect’s apparent defense of the size of his manhood. But Ben Carson’s flubbed entrance to a February ABC News debate was good old-fashioned physical humor at its best. After failing to hear the announcement summoning him to the stage, a smiling Carson stood serenely backstage, causing a traffic backup as his fellow candidates came forward. Even the prompting of two separate stagehands failed to get Carson to his podium before he was lapped by Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, each suppressing some combination of a giggle, a cringe and a shrug. Kudos, Dr. Carson, for this gem of a 2016 moment.
Fact-checkers had their hands full this year, but this entry was worth at least an Honorable Mention in the Least Convincing Quote category. Asked in April how he was feeling about the state of the GOP race, embattled Republican National Committee head Reince Priebus insisted “I'm not pouring Baileys in my cereal, I’m not sitting here trying to find a Johnnie Walker. I mean, this is fun.” Two questions: 1) What is “A Johnnie Walker” and where can we get one? And 2) Cocoa Puffs, Mr. Chairman? Or Cap’n Crunch? Because literally nobody believed you.
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Forget, for a moment, that Ken Bone turned out to be a flawed human rather than the unsullied normcore unicorn we tried to make him. The red-sweater-wearing star of the second presidential debate became an instant celebrity until the discovery of his previous unsavory internet missives about Trayvon Martin, vasectomies and “butt holes” brought his squeaky-clean image crashing down. But cherish those heady early days when Bone’s earnest debate town hall question and even more earnest wardrobe made us all feel like good citizenship and humble neighborliness still existed in the world.
If you’ve ever wondered what 130 million dollars evaporating into thin air sounds like, you got your answer on a February day in Hanover, New Hampshire. Jeb Bush, whose campaign juggernaut had slowed to a whimpering defeat, was reduced to begging for applause from a sleepy town hall audience. Bush’s failed run was a vivid illustration of the downfall of an old Republican establishment — and nobody will soon forget a moment that showed just how humbling a run for the presidency can be.
Almost every time an ambitious politician tries to pull off a hip and youthful move, it ends in hilarity. One such attempt this year came from California Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez, who entered her first and only debate against Kamala Harris badly needing to make up ground, especially with younger voters. So in the final moments of the debate, Sanchez triumphantly 'dabbed' — striking the sneeze-like victory-pose-slash-dance-move popularized by quarterback Cam Newton. Harris responded with a look that deserves its own special exhibit in the Side-Eye Hall of Fame. (Sanchez enjoyed as much luck as slumping Newton this season, losing the Senate race by more than two million votes.)
At its core, the 2016 election was a battle between the overly scripted and the chaotically improvised (Spoiler alert: the latter won, but both were really unpopular). But somewhere in the middle was one golden, quirky, weird moment that delighted even the most cynical observers. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders reacted with glee when a tiny bird landed on his podium during a rally in Portland, Oregon this March — a spontaneous and cute response that set Twitter ablaze.
Former President Bill Clinton is one of the most recognizable figures in the world, a man who parlayed his presidency into a philanthropic – if controversial – post-presidency defined by his travels all over the globe. But on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, it appeared completely possible that William Jefferson Clinton was just a man who, until that very that moment, had never before seen an inflated balloon. Memes abounded, and they were magical.
You know how the old saying goes: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with fart jokes.” An anti-Clinton group ensured coverage for their movement this summer by organizing a flatulence-based protest at the Democratic National Convention, complete with a premeditated bean feast to get the participants feeling good and gassy. Don’t worry, though: The protest, though silent, was not deadly.
White House-produced videos can sometimes be hokey and stale, but this year’s White House Correspondents' Dinner “Couch Commander” skit was well worth the watch. How could anyone not giggle at a shades-clad House Speaker John Boehner wordlessly summoning a glass of merlot in slow motion? (We’re a little biased in favor of the Chuck Todd cameo in here, too.)
In the television age, the presidency has become as much an exercise in political image-making as it is in governing. History will judge the results of Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba, but in the meantime we can judge the heck out of how awkwardly-executed this victory-handshake-salute-thingy was.
It wasn’t a great year for the Governor of New Jersey. Chris Christie’s approval rating has slumped almost to the teens and his early loyalty to then-candidate Donald Trump hasn’t been rewarded with the Cabinet position he may have planned on. But you’ve got to hand it to Christie for standing by his principles when he was ridiculed this March for dumping the contents of a small bag of M&M’s into a bigger box. “There’s a bag inside the box, you dope!” he told a pair of radio hosts who questioned his method. “It’s easier to hold the box than it is to hold the bag!” No apologies, Governor. No apologies.
It’s a testament to the peculiarity of 2016 that a candidate for a significant party office stripped down to a thong on stage at a televised convention and the public response was a weary: "Ugh, what now?” But it happened, it was dumb, and there’s video. So, here you go: