TPM is pleased to announce the winners of the Ninth Annual Golden Dukes recognizing the year’s best purveyors of public corruption, outlandish behavior, The Crazy and betrayals of the public trust. The awards are named in honor of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who epitomizes the iconic modern scandal.
Our celebrity judges—Hunter Walker, Dan Savage, Megan Carpentier, Hendrik Hertzberg, and Susie Bright—waded their way through all 22 finalists in 5 categories, and selected the winners.
Check out the lucky nominees and the reader emails that selected them here. And now, without further ado, the winners:
Best Scandal—General Interest: Dennis Hastert
Hunter Walker: Dennis Hastert
I have to give this one to the former House Speaker. Call me old fashioned, but I think sex scandals are the best scandals—and the best ones have a nice whiff of hypocrisy.
It’s amazing how many opponents of same sex marriage turned out to be in the closet isn’t it?
The sad part here is how many people were victimized on this. There are Hastert’s former students and also the millions of people who were scarred for life when they ended up thinking about him naked.
Dan Savage: Kevin McCarthy
Picking the “best” in this category is difficult—because it depends on how you define “best.”
Does “best” mean the most entertaining? Then it’s David “The Shitter” Vitter’s long-delayed come-uppance. If it means the most shocking, then it’s Dennis Hastert’s exposure as a sexual predator. (Was anyone involved in the impeachment of Bill Clinton not an adulterer, a sex offender, an asshole, or all three?) If “best” means the most inevitable/predictable, then the “scandal” that deflated Ben Carson takes the prize. (Unlike Trump, Carson was clearly a 2012-ish candidate when his numbers started rising—a Bachmann/Gingrich/Cain/Santorum—and his fall was no shock.) If “best” means the most consequential, then it’s Kevin McCarthy, who single-handedly (single-mouthedly? single-gaffedly?) exposed the Benghazi committee for the partisan hack/whack job it is, was, and always will be, exponentially increasing the odds of President Hillary Clinton.
Since the rules prevent me from declaring this one a four-way tie, I’m going to go with stupid Kevin McCarthy—despite the lack of sex/sexual abuse angle in his (Vitter, Hastert), and some competing stupid (Carson).
Megan Carpentier: Dennis Hastert
I hesitate to call anything “best” when it involves the abuse, let alone sexual abuse, of a minor. But in terms of sheer distastefulness and hypocrisy, Hastert blew his competition out of the water. Anyone can fudge having been offered a scholarship, or hire a private investigator to dig up dirt on their competitors, or even admit to politicizing a tragedy for electoral gains – it’s Washington, after all, and resume-padding, opposition research and trying to wring electoral advantage out of other people’s tragic deaths (“a noun, a verb and 911”) are par for the course. But the sheer depravity, the utter lack of a moral compass, and the misuse of moral authority of Hastert’s pre-Congressional illegal acts, coupled with the hypocrisy of his work to end a presidency over consensual sex with an of-age partner and his efforts to deny rights to consensual partners of age who happen to be of the same sex, Hastert’s your guy, apparently.
I also feel justified in all the times I got drunk and asked someone if they thought he looked molestery.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Ben Carson
This year’s General Interest nominees are an all-star team of Republican miscreants. Hastert’s undoing was the most spectacular and unexpected, but, for me, the sadness and wretchedness of the case made wholehearted enjoyment impossible. Kevin McCarthy’s Kinsley gaffe is a little too paradoxical, in that McCarthy’s rashly honest admission turned out to be the only feature of the Benghazi committee fiasco that was not scandalous. Vitter’s hypocrisy was old news, and his defeat, though a little surprising given Louisiana’s traditional tolerance of outrageous knavery, was a mere footnote.
My vote, therefore, goes to Dr. Carson. His belief that he was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point, where tuition, room and board, and even school clothes are absolutely free of charge, was, in my opinion, a more or less honest mistake. His eagerness to monetize his hard-earned professional reputation by selling his services to an elixir-peddling 19th-century style medicine show was satisfyingly comical. But his singular innovation was becoming the first Presidential candidate ever to indignantly deny accusations that he had not attacked his mother with a hammer and tried to stab a classmate in the stomach.
Susie Bright: Dennis Hastert
I wish “The Hammer” loomed as large in today’s news cycle today as he did in his prime.
Hastert is currently clinging to life in the hospital, according to his lawyers. That, and his failure to spend a single hour in jail for his felonies— will draw renewed attention to the former House Speaker’s lifetime of predation, lies, and rape.
Only a blink ago, Dennis arranged to pay out $3.5 million in child abuse hush money. That’s “Vatican Large,” Denny! You did it all yourself without any help from a diocese—just the blind eye of the Senate. You sexually and emotionally abused young men in your care, for decades, while bitterly attacking the “Gay Agenda.” You tried to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage —- I guess you don’t believe in putting a ring on it. Your romantic ambitions only lay in shtupping god-knows-how-many underage boys.
This is the man who reigned as Speaker of the House longer than any figure in U.S. History. This is the Titan who presided over Clinton’s impeachment hearing.
Instead of a judgement on his cruelty and hypocrisy, Hastert pled out to “bank fraud.” Is that what they call rape-while-high-school-coaching these days? Well-played, sir. Machiavelli and Caligula are admiring you from the grave, where you soon will join them.
Best Scandal—Sex and Generalized Carnality: Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat
Hunter Walker: Jared Fogle
We’re used to politicians being gross, but this scandal was extra weird because it involved a TV pitchman we all half remembered. The details were also so over the top. One of the most bizarre stories to emerge from this was that Fogle ran a massive porn library out of his dorm room in the days before the web and his famous weight loss.
This was a sick mix of late 90’s nostalgia and depravity. In other
words, it was pure Internet gold.
I always have thought Subway was gross. Have you ever smelled one of
their restaurants? It’s unnatural. This scandal has me wondering about the secret lives of other TV pitchmen from the past few decades. Has anyone checked on Wendy the Snapple Lady lately?
Dan Savage: Josh Duggar
I may have to recuse myself in this category.
People Magazine ran a cover story on one of the Duggar girls two years ago about the virginity-obsessed cult/clan’s “rules for dating.” I took a pic and tweeted it out along with this not-so-deep thought: “I’m guessing #FuckFirst isn’t one of the rules.” (#FuckFirst—fuck before dinner on Valentine’s Day, certainly fuck before getting married—is one of my rules.) I was attacked on Twitter for two solid weeks for pointing out something the Duggars themselves would have to agree with: their Godly/biblical dating rules look nothing like my faggy/secular dating rules. It’s two years later and I’m still getting the “Fuck off, dirty faggot!” tweet from Duggar fans.
So, yeah, I probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote in this category—but on the off chance my vote isn’t set aside by the shadowy cabal that runs the Golden Dukes, my vote goes to that moralizing, hypocritical, anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-porn, ham-faced bigot Josh Duggar, whose twin scandals—sexually abusing his sisters, cheating on his wife while being paid handsomely to “defend marriage” from the gays—temporarily knocked his odious, bigoted family off the TV and off the covers of tabloids.
Megan Carpentier: Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat
Though the Schadenfreude from Josh Duggar’s fall from grace is hard to resist – especially given that his turn as a political operative was gifted on the basis of his public godliness – I have to go with Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. The old saw that the only thing that can ruin a political career is being caught with a dead girl or a live boy seems to have passed them by utterly; it’s hardly the first time that co-workers have been caught in flagrante delicto, so the attempted cover-up is the oddest thing imaginable.On the scale of sex scandals,, bumping uglies with another legislator your own age is actually kind of… sweet, as Golden Duke nominees go? They probably got drunk one night in Lansing while the legislature was in session – ain’t much else to do there – and one thing led to another.
But there are no text messages, no lewd photos, everyone’s of-age, everything was apparently consensual. Except for that they were married and not apparently in open relationships (monogamy is not the only relationship model, people!), Courser and Gamrat’s affair would hardly qualify as an award-winning scandal except that, when confronted with the possibility that their afternoon delight might make the evening edition, Todd Courser’s recourse was to try to fake a gay sex scandal. And look, I’m not going to claim to be the world’s most fundamentally honest of people, but I have to say that it’s never occurred to me to cover up an act with a more outrageous lie that I could prove was definitely untrue because then people would believe me no matter what.
I’m not sure what goes on in the head of someone who cheats on his wife with a female colleague and then wants to make people believe that he also cheated on his wife with an anonymous man in a public setting in order to expose the second scenario as a lie so that people will disbelieve the first. I’m pretty sure that would get laughed out of the writer’s room at Days of Our Lives, so it earned him my vote.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat
This one comes down to the Michigan tea partiers vs. the Family Research Council. I’d be happy to see either of them get the Duke, but I give the tea partiers a slight edge. The FRC scandal has formidable strengths: a reality TV show based on making the Duggars look like a Bible Belt version of the von Trapps; a top-of-the-line “family values” political and lobbying powerhouse; incestuous child abuse plus Internet-fueled adultery; ostentatious piety. By comparison, the Michigan tea partiers were small potatoes. Nobody had ever heard of them. But they deserve recognition for scandalously concocting an incredibly lurid fake scandal in a scandalous attempt to cover up an incredibly banal episode of not very scandalous human weakness.
Susie Bright: Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat
I love “Todd and Cindy.” Just saying their names aloud draws laughter—the course of true love never did run smooth. The rats were caught red-handed with cheese stuffed in every orifice.
These two Michigan lovebirds saved heterosexual adultery from a future of sagging reviews and middle-class ennui. Who heard of a hotter pair of lovers this year? These two moved their legislative offices together so they could screw multiple times between sessions—while their staffers were afraid to knock! Smokin’…
My favorite part is Courser’s scheme to deflect attention from his true stripes. He thought by smearing himself as a meth-head who solicited street hookers in gay clubs, it would make his pork-a-thon with Cindy look tame by comparison! Hold up there, Todd… My bet is you’ve tried everything you described. My hat’s off to Gamrat for keeping you on any kind of hook.
You two, get a room—off the taxpayer books.
Best Scandal—Local Venue: Kim Davis
Hunter Walker: Oregon Sheriff John Hanlin
I want this aware to go to Douglas County, Oregon Sheriff John Hanlin because of how bizarre I find Sandy Hook trutherism.
Many conspiracy theories are at least somewhat understandable. There’s some kind of semi-coherent reason to suspect political motivations or a cover up. Sandy Hook trutherism is just a whole other level of bizarre.
It’s one thing to know that internet basement dwellers think some mysterious and powerful entity staged a horrifying massacre and disappeared over 20 children. However, it’s amazing to find anyone in a position of authority holds such a bizarre view. This one was just so special.
Dan Savage: Kim Davis
Let’s pretend for a second Kim Davis hadn’t come to national attention by refusing to do her fucking job. Here’s a woman who was pregnant with her third husband’s twins while still married to her first husband. She divorces her first husband and marries her second husband, who adopts the children of the man who will one day become her third husband. Then she divorces her second husband and marries her third husband. Then she divorces her third husband and remarries her second husband. Even if Kim Davis hadn’t abused the powers of her office to discriminate against gay couples in Rowan Country, Kentucky, she would still take the Golden Duke in this category in a walk—a walk down the aisle, Davis’s preferred cardio workout.
For the record: When sane people suggested that maaaaaaaaybe Kim Davis’s was a less-than-ideal spokesbigot for “traditional marriage,” her defenders insisted she wasn’t a Christian until her fourth marriage—so her first three marriages, and all that hot Kentucky-fried adultery, didn’t count. Yeah, no. Davis’s first three marriages were performed in Baptist churches; all three were officiated by Baptist ministers. (Her fourth marriage was performed in an Pentecostal church.) Maybe someone should ask Mike Huckabee, the ordained Baptist minister who hoped to ride Davis all the way to the Republican nomination, whether he think Baptists are Christians. (My apologies for the mental image.)
Megan Carpentier: Tara Mack and Tim Kelly
State legislatures are notorious for nookie – in a lot of states with part-time legislatures, those in from out of town for the lawmaking week all get put up in one of a few hotels and, as anyone who’s traveled for business can attest, hotels make certain kinds of naughtiness feel consequence-free. (Las Vegas has an entire ad campaign built around that idea.) So it’s not surprising that we’ve got two state legislator entrants in the Dukes this year for extramarital shenanigans.
But, look: as someone that grew up in a semi-rural area, no cop is going to file a report for two people making out in a car if, when that terrifying flashlight of flaccidity bangs on the window, you button (or zip) up, act appropriately chagrined and get on your way. So this isn’t really about Mack and Kelly making out: this is about the two of them getting caught making out and Kelly trying to pull a “don’t you know who I am?!” on a law enforcement officer who just did not give a shit that day. It is, in the legal parlance, about “contempt of cop”, not contempt for their marital vows.
Like Courser before him, Kelly had two choices: he could’ve dealt calmly with the situation at hand; or he could’ve flapped and flailed and yelled and screamed and stomped his little feet and made it a hell of a lot worse. It’s not enough of a scandal to get caught making out in a car with a colleague; it is when you claim that your tongue and your fingers were searching for health care documents and you yell at a park ranger when he tells you to stop.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Paul LePage
I vote for Paul LePage.
The feebleness of the other nominees is only a minor part of my thinking. Making out in a parking lot? Committing civil disobedience (albeit in an unworthy cause)? Being a Second Amendment asshole?
However, I must disclose an interest that may be disqualifying. Paul LePage, an uncouth right-wing buffoon, is governor of Maine because of that state’s first-past-the-post plurality-winner electoral system, which is also the system in almost every other state. In 2010, LePage got 37.6% of the vote in a multi-candidate election, edging out an independent center-left reformer and a regular Democrat, who got 54.7% between them. In 2014 LePage won again, this time with 48.14%, as against the 51.8% who voted for the two center-left candidates.
Right now there is a very promising ballot initiative campaign under way to switch Maine to ranked choice voting, aka instant-runoff voting, for all statewide offices and Congressional elections as well. You can check it out herehttp://www.fairvote.org/spotlight_maine#maine_ballot_initiative. RCV makes room for a variety of meaningful choices, eliminates spoilers, and guarantees that winners are at least acceptable to a majority of voters. Its success would be a big deal, not just for Maine but as a bellwether for the whole country. The way I see it, anything that draws attention to this excellent reform is a plus. Paul LePage fills the bill.
As Maine goes…
Susie Bright: Kim Davis
Martyr Kimi for the win. Davis had it all—the prairie dresses, the flowing Biblical hair, multiple marriages with children sired by competing ex and current husbands, and of course—hubris before a great fall.
Isn’t there a chapter in 1 Corinthians just about her?
Now the Pope, Huckabee, and the GOP shyster-of-the month have deserted her. “Hating Homos” is a lonely vigil indeed. The checks stopped. We often feel sorry for our Duke Nominees and indeed, Kim Davis deserves a special “Do-You-Get-It-Now?” Cream Pie just for being such a pathetic dupe.
Meritorious Achievement In The Crazy: Michele Fiore
Hunter Walker: Michele Fiore
For me this one is kind of like a rookie of the year honor. Fiore has only been in state office for two years and change and she’s already made national headlines.
She also pulled off something of a streak. Her offer to personally execute Syrian refugees came just a few days after the viral Christmas card where she wished the world a Merry Christmas by outfitting her family with an arsenal.
That’s basically like a Derp Double Double. It’s so rare and special to see a rookie politician achieve on that level. I expect we will see many more great things from Michele in the years to come.
Dan Savage: Jim Inhofe
Donald Trump, Beth Van Duyne, and Michele Fiore aren’t crazy—they’re not loveable kooks—they’re racist, xenophobic hatemongers. Their public comments about Mexicans and Muslims are dangerous and they’re going to get someone killed. Likewise Gov. Greg Abbott’s paranoid statements about the federal government are probably going to get some federal worker killed—or a whole bunch of them. (Adam Gopnik writing in the New Yorker in 1996 after Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal office building, killing 168 people: “Fifty years from now historians are unlikely to write, ‘In the mid-nineties, politicians and talk-show radio hosts created an atmosphere of poisonous hatred against the national government. Also, in a completely unrelated development, somebody blew up the federal office building in Oklahoma City.’” How many federal buildings are there in Texas anyway?)
So by process of elimination…my vote goes to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Moron). Inhofe should accept his Duke on behalf of the entire Republican Party, which has elevated climate-change denial to the status of trickle-down economics, i.e. an article of faith, impervious to reason, facts, evidence, and rising seas. Inhofe’s stance on climate change—so long as there’s enough snow on the planet to make a snowball, it isn’t happening—is going to get people killed too, but not in the immediate future (unless you count more powerful hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires here in the US, or you happen to live in Bangladesh or on the Marshall Islands).
Megan Carpentier: Donald Trump
The political establishment has played a game this year: guessing has been whether Trump is a sideshow or a showman, a real candidate or running some elaborate con on the Republican establishment and American at large. They have not – at least until recently – seen him as a credible, let alone viable, contender for the Republican nomination precisely because everything he says seems so crazy and the pundit class just doesn’t believe that anyone like them – white, male, well-educated, monied – can actually be that dumb or that insane.
Well, Trump may or may not believe what he says – I personally give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s making an honest accounting of his beliefs – but it’s working, which is crazy enough. We literally have a man who is polling in the lead for the Republican nomination whose conception of foreign policy involves somehow forcing Mexico to build a border wall with one door; keeping all Muslims from entering the country; and using nuclear weapons on non-nuclear states because, you know, we have them. The thought of a woman urinating grosses him out, breast-feeding disgusts him and he believes that when you have blood coming out of your vagina you’re clearly going to be mean to him. (For the record, I am not menstruating as I type this. I can be rude about Donald Trump regardless of whether I’m surfing the red tide.)
In reality, though, Donald Trump’s not “crazy” – the definition of which depends entirely on the definition of “normal”. Maybe in our ivory towers and our urban enclaves, Donald Trump and his policy ideas seem “crazy”. But the sad, horrible fact of the matter is that Trump and the resounding support he’s getting from voters means that he’s not crazy at all, given what “normal” in America seemingly is. Donald Trump doesn’t deserve the meritorious award for his own achievement; he deserves it for giving voice to literally every other bit of it in American society today.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Jim Inhofe
An embarrassment of riches in this category. Sharia law panics, military takeover delusions, middle-school science project terrorism fears, and sicko gun festishist fantasies of blowing out the brains of defenseless refugees: these are hard to beat. So is Trump, but I’m reluctant to see him win any election, even this one.
Therefore: Inhofe. That this person is an elected official, let alone a United States Senator, is a scandal. That he is chairman of the Environment Committee is a scandal. That the G.O.P. is the only conservative political party in the entire developed world that denies not only the significance but even the existence of global warming is a scandal.
James Inhofe is scandal made flesh. His only contribution to environmental science is that his membership in the Senate Republican caucus proves that there is such a thing as a snowball in hell.
Susie Bright: Michele Fiore
The Krampus Krackpot Krown belongs on the head of Nevada’s Rep. Michele Fiore, for staging her entire family Christmas card with every loved one armed to the teeth. Why give a baby a bottle when he can nurse on a .45?
I’d like to know the Vegas odds on who in the Fiore family/asylum will blow their foot off before Valentine’s Day. —Or is the whole klan being shipped off to Paris to shoot up the Louvre? “
“Team America— FUCK YEAH” is the family crest. This woman makes Sarah Palin look clear-eyed and demure.
Best Conspiracy Theory: Tie Between Ben Carson and Alex Jones
Hunter Walker: Donald Trump
Alec Jones really deserves this aware every time, but I couldn’t get through this contest without voting to give a Duke to the Donald. He’s dominated the election cycle so far and I’m not even sure his fever dream about witnessing “thousands” of Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Jersey isn’t even the wildest thing he’s said on the trail.
As someone who’s dealt with Trump rather extensively, I have my own conspiracy theory about this conspiracy theory.
I can picture exactly what happened here. We know Trump is a conspiracy devotee thanks to his birther bender in 2010.
Maybe Trump read the article about the unsubstantiated rumors of small, isolated celebrations 14 years ago. Or perhaps he came across the idea some fevered conspiracy theory forum or message board. Wherever he first came across the seed for this idea, I imagine he printed the page out and asked one of his secretaries to file it away in the massive log of articles he’s so fond of emailing to reporters. Or perhaps he just filed it away in his memory bank.
Either way, by the time he returned to it, in typical Trump fashion he turned a little rumor into a positively huge gold plated conspiracy theory. There allegedly was a celebration became there were GIGANTIC celebrations that Trump saw with his own eyes. Once it was pointed out to him that this was obviously totally untrue, he refused to back down. Why? Because, Trump.
This story is really a perfect anecdote from a very, very Duke-worthy campaign.
Dan Savage: Alex Jones
As much as I want to vote for Ben Carson in this category (he should have something to show for his efforts this year), I have to go with Alex Jones in recognition of his work on the Jade Helm conspiracy theory. He’s Orson Welles for rubes, paranoids, gun-huggers, and off-their-medzers.
Megan Carpentier: Ben Carson
I actually think that the idea that all of ancient history is an elaborate hoax by Satan to draw attention away from God’s miracles is the ultimate conspiracy theory, so I gotta give this one to Ben Carson. It’s one thing to be a scientist who struggles to square the Biblical description of creation and the history of mankind with the historical and archeological record; it’s another thing to just eschew the science and historical record altogether in favor of a literal reading of the Bible and to, in effect, call other scientists the pawns of Satan.
At least the idea that a massive conspiracy along the lines of evolution has been carried out by supernatural forces led by Lucifer, the cast-out angel, gives credence to what those of us who don’t buy into conspiracy theories have long said: it would take too much organization and too much power and too much unobtainable secrecy to accomplish whatever alleged conspiracy. Humans are fallible, we are gossipy, and we love to know more than other people – and for other people to know that we know more than we do. (Ben Carson’s insistence that the pyramids were built by Joseph, of the Technicolor Dreamcoat Josephs, is proof enough that at least some people like lording their acquired “knowledge” over others.) So attributing the great lie of evolution to Satan makes more sense than just about any other conspiracy I’ve heard.
But, you know: Satan. Ben Carson wins.
Hendrik Hertzberg: Alex Jones
Best conspiracy theory? That depends on what “best” means.
If “best” means “goofiest,” Carson’s pyramid scheme is the winner. It’s supposedly true that Joseph was the Pharoah’s chief of staff, but why would he or anyone build a grain elevator made almost entirely of immense blocks of stone with only a few tiny interior spaces for storage? If “best” means “most obviously a joke,” then the false-flag Hillary Trump suggest would be the choice. If “best” means “stupidest,” then the honor must go to Gaffney and Geller. If “best” means “most inflammatory,” Trump is the man. But if “best” means “most persistent, wide-ranging, and lucrative use of conspiracy theories as a business model”—and I think it does—then the clear winner is Alex Jones, who gets extra points for the reference to Wal-Marts, which everyone knows were originally built for grain storage.
Susie Bright: Ben Carson
Who doesn’t love a pyramid scheme?
I vote Ben Carson and Cleopatra with Colonel Mustard in the Library. I don’t think it’s grain either—I’m sayin’ Fruit Loops.
This year was better for Conspiracies than it was for Corruption or Carnality— what does that say about End Times?—“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”