The Golden Dukes are named in honor of the incomparable former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who made his name in one of the biggest bribery schemes in congressional history and thus epitomizes the modern scandal. Each year, we round up the greatest instances of outlandish political antics, achievers in The Crazy, and career schemers, and pit them against each other in a show of new heights reached in political corruption.
This year alone would make ol’ Duke Cunningham proud.
The nominees, doubtlessly aware of the Dukes’ decade anniversary, brought their A-game this year in each category, and our judges have a tremendous task ahead of them. The "winners" will be published at the end of December.
The categories are:
You can jump to any category by clicking on the link above.
Below, we introduce the esteemed judges and the well-deserving nominees...
We are ecstatic to have a lineup of venerable judges, who will doubtless have plenty to say about this year’s nominees and 2016 in general. Their conclusions will be published at the end of December. They are:
Susie Bright, feminist sex writer and Editor at Large at Audible.com
Megan Carpentier, TPM alum, formerly a writer and Opinion editor at The Guardian
Jeb Lund, freelance writer and columnist, formerly for The Guardian and Rolling Stone
Simon Maloy, political writer for Salon
Charles P. Pierce, writes the Politics Blog with Charles P. Pierce for Esquire
AND THE NOMINEES, AS SUGGESTED BY TPM READERS AND STAFF, ARE...
Best Scandal — General Interest
- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for attempting to hide the piling evidence that he knew of, if not encouraged, Bridgegate, a politically-motivated scheme that caused four days of gridlock on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Christie’s allies were convicted for their role in the scheme after the seven-week trial, and Christie’s approval ratings have dropped to their lowest ever in the last half of the year. The president-elect held both Christie and Christie's chief of staff Bill Stepien close in his campaign, though Trump pushed Christie off the transition team two days after he won the presidential election.
- Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller earns a nomination this year for what is usually an innocuous election season activity: tweeting poll results. However, instead of tweeting out full names, he replaced Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s name with a four-letter word: “cunt.” Miller may have thought the issue would disappear when he deleted the tweet, but instead he and his staff further complicated the issue by coming up with three different, contrasting excuses for why it originally went live in the first place.
- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for strong-arming Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields forcefully enough to leave bruises on her arm at a Trump event, and then literally adding insult to injury by denouncing her as ‘delusional.’ The alt-right news outlet asserted that Fields was not grabbed by Lewandowski but by a security guard, although security video eventually confirmed Fields’ account. Fields resigned from Breitbart, saying they failed to support her, and then took a wide leap across the political spectrum to report for Huffington Post.
- White nationalist William Johnson for making it into Trump’s team of California delegates, as well as the Trump campaign for completely denying Johnson was included as a delegate, and then conceding that his inclusion was a “database error.” The campaign rushed to save face and get Johnson off the list, but Johnson accepted the “error” and did not attend the RNC.
- Trump confidante and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Roger Stone, for speculating that a leak of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns, sent to The New York Times, came from someone close to the president-elect. The tax returns, which showed that Trump’s $916 million business loss in 1995 may have prevented him from paying income taxes in the following 18 years, were sent to the Times’ office in an unassuming manila envelope with the return address marked as Trump Tower in Manhattan, prompting Stone’s belief.
Best Scandal -- Sex & Generalized Carnality
- Anthony Weiner, for pushing his once-absurd sexting antics to an ugly conclusion. The former member of the New York House of Representatives lost his congressional seat in 2011 and a “comeback” mayoral bid in 2013 to sexting scandals, although the 2016 documentary Weiner showcased the former congressmen in a more empathetic light. But in August, the New York Post broke a story featuring alleged lewd messages exchanged with an unidentified woman. A day later, Huma Abedin announced she was separating from Weiner. In late September, the Daily Mail broke a story that Weiner had exchanged explicit text messages and photos with a 15-year-old girl, and the federal prosecutor in New York City issued a subpoena for Weiner’s cell phone and other records a day later.
- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for his affair with former chief advisor, Rebekah Mason, revealed in an objectively creepy audio recording. The best part of the scandal is how it was handled: as John Oliver pointed out in a Last Week Tonight segment, Bentley was served with articles of impeachment by state House Speaker Mike Hubbard (a man who faced 23 felony charges) and presided over by Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (who had formerly been removed from his office for ethics violations).
- Roger Ailes, for his sexual abuse of female employees on his ascent to power at Fox News and for his final and conclusive downfall, both of which resulted in some of the biggest scandals in sex and media in 2016. Gretchen Carlson filed a civil complaint against Ailes in July and due to extensive corroboration and secret recordings, Fox News settled the case, paying Carlson $20 million. Ailes resigned from Fox News in late July.
- Republican Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Durham for a report revealing four years of creepy interactions between Durham and at least 22 women. TPM detailed some of the most inappropriate incidents from the report, which included aggressive flirting, suggestive comments and unwanted physical contact.
- Donald Trump, for grabbing p*ssy. In the now-infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape leaked to the Washington Post in early October, Trump offers some fatherly advice to “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush: "When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything [...] Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." The video release was enough to make Bush leave his role on NBC’s “Today,” but clearly not enough to cost Trump the presidency, though it did send the GOP into a debate over what they believe sexual assault to be.
Best Scandal -- Local Venue
- Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for delivering his constituents months and months of neglect, deceit and poisonous water through the Flint Water Crisis. On his part, the governor admitted that he had “failed” Flint residents, but that did not push Congress to pass a vote on a temporary funding bill before September. Snyder also thought he could alleviate Flint residents’ fears by drinking tap water from the afflicted town for a month.
- Fairfax City, Virginia Mayor Richard “Scott” Silverthorne for allegedly distributing methamphetamine in exchange for sex. Silverthorne was discovered and arrested after an undercover detective created a profile on a website arranging sexual encounters between men and set up a meeting at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tysons Corner, VA.
- Seven, count ‘em, seven, current and former San Francisco Bay Area police officers for sexual misconduct with a teenager, who said she was a prostitute and sometimes traded sex for protection from arrest. Dozens of officers at the Oakland Police Department are under suspicion for having sexual contact with the teenager. The scandal began in September 2015 when an Oakland police officer killed himself and left behind a suicide note detailing the relationships he and his peers had with the teenager.
- Maine Gov. Paul LePage for leaving an unhinged voicemail for Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democratic state lawmaker he thought called him racist. “Mr. Gattine, this is Gov. Paul Richard LePage. [...] I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-bitch, socialist cocksucker.” LePage also called a newsroom to continue his tirade against Gattine: “I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825 [...] We would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes.”
- West Virginia Clay County Development Corp. director Pamela Ramsey Taylor, for a racist post she made on Facebook about Michelle Obama. "It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I'm tired of seeing a Ape in heels." Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling responded: "Just made my day Pam." Both women were put on leave and the mayor resigned.
Meritorious Achievement In The Crazy
- Katrina Pierson for her remarkable necklace made from gold, silver, and pewter colored bullets. The necklace first made its debut on a CNN appearance that was technically in the waning days of 2015, but it happened too late to be included in the 2015 Golden Dukes. When Shannon Watts tweeted, “Surely @KatrinaPierson wore bullet necklace on #CNN to bring attention to 90 Americans fatally shot daily #gunsense,” Pierson replied, “Maybe I’ll wear a fetus next time& bring awareness to 50 million aborted people that will never ger to be on Twitter” [sic].
- Katrina Pierson for using her apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of airplanes to vigorously defend Donald Trump against sexual assault allegations. After Jessica Leeds accused Trump of groping her on an airplane over 30 years ago, Pierson appeared on CNN to refute Leeds by getting specific about armrests. “Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests! [...] So what I can tell you about her story, if she was groped on a plane, it wasn’t by Donald Trump and it certainly wasn’t in first class.” The kicker? Airplane enthusiast group NYC Aviation refuted Pierson.
- Donald Trump for spontaneously booking a trip to Mexico to have a last-minute meeting with Mexican Prime Minister Enrique Peña Nieto, feuding on Twitter with Peña Nieto about who was going to pay for the wall, and immediately producing “Make Mexico Great Again Also” ball caps, donned by Trump superfans Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions, at Trump’s immigration banner speech that night.
- William Johnson for setting up homophobic robocalls calling then presidential candidate Evan McMullin a “closet homosexual.” Johnson, who is chairman of the white nationalist American Freedom Party and founder of the pro-Trump super PAC American National, later apologized for his message in the special way only a white nationalist can: “I sent the robocalls out because Utah is a strong family-values state and America and the West is gripped by an extreme and fatal malady: failure to marry and have children,” Johnson continued. “The white birth rate is so astonishingly low that Western Civilization will soon cease to exist.”
- Former Travis County Texas GOP Chair Robert Morrow for wanting everything to be bigger in Texas, especially “titties” and “boobies.” Morrow is known for a vulgar Twitter feed where he delightedly hurls insults, the N-word, and racy pictures featuring “boobies,” his true passion. Days before he assumed the chairmanship in June, the local Republican Party voted to strip Morrow of some of his executive powers. In August, state Republican chairman Tom Mechler removed Morrow from his post.
Outstanding Achievements In Embracing Diversity
- President-elect Donald Trump for his courtship of a population previously ignored in presidential campaigns: white supremacists. Trump started the year denying his knowledge of white supremacists’ support for him and failing to understand why they got out the vote for him, but later his campaign began promoting white supremacists’ tweets during the RNC. He also received several endorsements from prominent white supremacists such as former KKK leader David Duke, which he maintained he struggled to understand.
- Kathy Miller, a former Trump campaign chair for Mahoning County Ohio, who claimed racism did not exist before President Obama was elected and that black Americans were the only ones at fault if they struggled in the past 50 years, in an interview with the Guardian. She later apologized for the comments and resigned her post, saying that she was not commenting on behalf of the campaign.
- Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for spouting his belief that no other “subgroup” contributed more to civilization than white people during a televised debate.
- President-elect Donald Trump (again!) for assuming federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana native of Hispanic descent who took down a dangerous drug cartel based in Tijuana as a federal prosecutor, would be “hostile” to Trump because of his plans to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, when presiding over the case alleging Trump University defrauded thousands of students.
- President-elect Donald Trump (one more time now!) for celebrating Cinco de Mayo by posting a photo of himself eating a taco bowl, somehow hoping this off-color promotion of Trump Tower Grill’s alleged menu and its Americanized dish would improve his favorability among a group of people he previously labeled as murderers and rapists.
- Pastor Mark Burns, a Trump surrogate, for tweeting a cartoon image of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in blackface, making derisive attempts to attract African American voters. He later deleted the tweet, apologizing if he offended anyone and stating that he was frustrated that politicians pandered to black voters without upholding promises.
- Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald, who resigned from his post in Maryland after an investigation uncovered his colorful turns of phrase he used when addressing minority deputies and citizens. Among them, he told the Retired Police Officer’s Association president that he “voted for your ‘boy’ [President Barack] Obama,” nicknamed County Executive Ken Ulman as “little Kenny Jew-boy,” and among his black deputies, he asked if they ordered “the ‘chicken’ special” at lunch and described them as “not too smart but they get the job done.”
Most Accurate Citations Of Fake News
- President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign team, for claiming that President Barack Obama only won North Carolina in 2008 because of votes from non-citizens.
- Eric Trump, Corey Lewandowski and Ann Coulter for retweeting a fake news site’s story saying that anti-Trump protesters were paid thousands to hold their signs.
- Fox host Sean Hannity for spending a week of his time investigating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s health, claiming that her laugh was “seizure-esque” and calling a trip on the stairs proof of her “instability.”
- Donald Trump for pumping life into a National Enquirer story that claimed that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he murdered former President John F. Kennedy, and that Rafael may have had some role in the assassination.
- The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology for sharing an article by Breitbart that claims Earth’s temperature increase was due the El Niño weather phenomenon and that it will decrease in the next two years. The Weather Channel decided to step in and debunk the skewing of their data, which actually showed record high temperatures in the lower atmosphere in November.
- Our new National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, for implying that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was involved in sex crimes with minors, linking to a fake news story, in a tweet sent days before the election. Flynn quietly deleted the tweet in mid-December.
Craziest Campaign Ads
- William Johnson and his American National Super PAC, for promoting Republican candidate Donald Trump by telling Vermont and Minnesota voters via robocall “Don’t vote for a Cuban,” referencing both Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) Cuban heritage.
- Eric Greitens, Missouri’s governor-elect, for his AR-15-slinging commercial where he claims he “will take dead aim at politics as usual.” The majority of Missourians were apparently comforted rather than concerned by the explosive ad, because they voted in the former Navy Seal who held no state government experience over former state Attorney General Chris Koster.
- Charlyn Daugherty for her desperate pleas to Texas’ Travis County to get her husband Gerald back in the office as County Commissioner. “He doesn’t have any hobbies,” she laments, while Gerald is lost in reveries about jail and rail car capacities. The antics continue before Charlyn breaks down and begs, “Please re-elect Gerald...please.” Her pleas were heard, and Travis County voted to give Charlyn some relief from Gerald’s fiscal responsibility rhetoric.
- Senate candidate Jason Kander (D-MO), for assembling an AR-15 blindfolded. When GOP incumbent Blunt attacked Kander on his “F” rating from the NRA, Kander’s camp countered with an ad designed to show that Kander wasn’t anti gun or Second Amendment, just pro background checks. It wasn’t enough to take Blunt’s seat, but the explosive ad went viral.
THE READER EMAILS A lot of readers sent emails suggesting President-elect Donald Trump sweep all seven categories for his extraordinary schlep into the Oval Office. Though we could probably find a situation to fit every category, there are plenty of other contenders in this unparalleled year of debauchery!
Best Scandal -- General Interest
From reader GA:
Gotta be James Comey. He almost singlehandedly (with the help of his KGB/FSB counterpart in an act of unprecedented east/West cooperation) handed the election to Donald Trump. It can't even be close this year.
From reader JB:
I nominate Bridgegate. Not only did it result in multiple convictions and guilty pleas from bit players, but it helped destroy Chris Christie's presidential hopes (and possibly undermined his chances of getting a post in the Trump administration). It also resulted in a side scandal that took down David Samson for coercing United Airlines into giving him a special flight. Testimony during the Bridgegate trial was frequently R-rated and exposed the Christie administration's use of Sandy recovery money and relics from 9/11 to get endorsements or cooperation from local politicians. It also left lingering questions about how much Andrew Cuomo knew and whether he helped cover up the cause of the lane closures before the scandal broke.
JB originally submitted Bridgegate to “Best Scandal -- Local Venue,” but based on the role the scandal has played in the national general election and Christie’s perception nationwide, we decided to include in the “Best Scandal -- General Interest” category.
Best Scandal -- Local Venue
From reader ET:
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for his part in the Flint Water Crisis. For poisoning an entire city’s population, lying about it, and then, when proven liable, attempting to get out of funding any of the recovery.
Outstanding Achievements in Embracing Diversity
From reader JT:
The unnamed creator of the Trump-Pence logo in which the T impaled the P for “Outstanding Achievements in Embracing Diversity. ”Who is it, eh? Probably some amazingly lazy person who slapped the logo together in under ten minutes, but their work unintentionally reminded America of often-forgotten gay people.
Craziest Campaign Ads
From reader RK:
I have one nomination for craziest campaign ads. I live adjacent to NYS' 19th congressional district and these ads were the roughest on my local tv all season. John Faso benefitted from several outside groups running attack ads against Zephyr Teachout, including the Congressional Leadership Fund and the American Unity PAC. The NRCC's anti-Teachout ads take the cake for me. Besides their general nastiness, using the word "Professor" as a slur struck me as innovative. I'm including the link to the ad with the mushroom cloud, as I think that's the craziest one.
From reader JE:
The winner is this category MUST be "Please Re-Elect Gerald." Oh, I know others will submit their ads with laughable claims (yawn) or wild promises (snore). But nothing tops an ad by a wife pleading with the electorate to give her husband another term as Travis County Commissioner to keep his earnest but insufferable rants from boring her to tears, as so aptly documented in the ad.
A previous version of this stated that David Wildstein was a part of the Trump presidential campaign team rather than Bill Stepien. We regret the error.