Its Time To Cast Your Vote For The Duke Of Dukes

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December 14, 2020 5:43 p.m.
TPM Illustration/Getty Images

Alas, Michele Bachmann’s unhinged diatribes about terrorist Muslims infiltrating the U.S. government could not top Dinesh D’Souza’s batshit. Mark Sanford’s romantic adventures were deemed by readers to be no match for Dick Cheney shooting his buddy in the face — and then forcing said buddy to apologize for Cheney having shot him in the face.

And so, the people have spoken: Dinesh and Dick advance to the Round of 16.

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The play-ins are over and we now have our tournament is set. The day has arrived, let the madness begin: the Duke of Dukes competition now begins in earnest. May the odds be ever in the worst’s favor.

TPM Illustration

Every year, TPM awards a series of Golden Dukes to a winning slate of political figures, recognizing their achievement in the field of public corruption, nonsense, reckless abandonment of dignity and betrayal of the public trust.

This year, for TPM’s 20th anniversary, we’re changing things up a bit. We will be awarding a Duke of Dukes — the political figure who most embodies the spirit of the Dukes during TPM’s 20 years of existence.

You can find more information on the competition, and how we chose the contenders, here. That post also has guidance on who makes a good Duke.

Now, it’s up to you to pick who goes onto the next round. Polls are open now, and you can cast your vote below. Our contenders are grouped by era into four regions.

The Match-ups!

The OGs: (1) Randy “Duke” Cunningham vs. (4) James Traficant

(1) Randy “Duke” Cunningham: The former congressman — and Golden Dukes’ namesake — was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in 2006 after he was indicted on bribery charges. “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), it appeared, had secretly accepted millions from defense contractors in exchange for lucrative federal government contracts. He even maintained a “bribe menu” and was gifted fancy antiques in exchange for public dollars. Most notably, Cunningham sold his home to defense contractor Mitchell Wade of MZM Inc. for upwards of $1.6 million. He also lived rent-free on Wade’s yacht while he was in D.C., often hosting a revolving door of women, entertaining his guests with champagne while wearing a bathrobe, setting the ambience of the scene with the light of a lava lamp.

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(4) James Traficant: The late congressman, who served a seven-year prison sentence for various corruption charges, including bribery and racketeering, made history for being only the second member of Congress to be expelled from the House of Representatives since the Civil War. He tried, and failed, to run for office again. Ultimately he died in 2014 after suffering injuries in a tractor accident.

The OGs: (2) Jeff Gannon/“Bulldog” vs. (3) Scooter Libby

(2) Jeff Gannon/“Bulldog”: After a series of tough questions during one press briefing, a little-known reporter lobbed President George W. Bush a big, fat softball. Invoking Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton, the man, Jeff Gannon, asked: “How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” Who was this guy bailing out the squirming commander in chief? The nascent blogosphere revealed that Gannon real name was James D. Guckert, and that his employer, Talon News, was a front for Republican boosterism. The White House just happened to be giving the friendly Washington correspondent a new press pass daily. And — tabloid gold — the reporter planted to assist the anti-gay GOP had a past life as a gay escort who went by “Bulldog.” “Usually, the way it works is, people become reporters before they prostitute themselves,” he eventually conceded.

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(3) Scooter Libby: A diplomat’s rebuttal to the Bush administration’s overhyped Iraq WMD claims snowballed into a leak investigation in which Scooter Libby was convicted for obstruction of justice and promptly granted clemency before he could flip on his former White House colleagues. No one was ever charged with leaking to the media the identity of Valerie Plame — a CIA agent whose husband wrote an op-ed critical of Bush’s push to war with Iraq. But a jury found Libby — a top aide to Dick Cheney — had lied to a grand jury, after a trial where Libby tried to paint himself as the fall guy for a larger White House operation to out Plame. Bush’s move to immediately commute Libby’s 30-month prison sentence was widely interpreted as a gambit to keep Libby silent. He was later granted a full pardon by Trump.

Shoot Your Shot:  (1) Jack Abramoff vs. (4) Dick Cheney

(1) Jack Abramoff: Without Jack Abramoff, there is no TPMmuckraker, no Golden Dukes, no mid-aughts public corruption binge to drive Republicans from office. Not even a cameo appearance as a judge for the Golden Dukes could rehabilitate the D.C. uber-lobbyist who commandeered the GOP House majority before spending three and a half years in jail: he now awaits sentencing on new lobbying-related charges.

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(4) Dick Cheney: In February 2006, the Vice President shot Harry Whittington, a then-78-year-old Texas attorney, in the face with a 28-gauge Perazzi shotgun while they were on a quail hunt on a ranch in Riviera, Texas. Whittington suffered a non-fatal heart attack and atrial fibrillation, as well as a collapsed lung. Both Cheney and Whittington later called the incident an accident — for which Whittington felt the need to apologize. “My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family have had to deal with,” Whittington said in a press conference following his discharge from the hospital. “We hope that he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation that he deserves.”

Shoot Your Shot: (2) Rod Blagojevich vs. (3) Mark Foley

(2) Rod Blagojevich: The former governor of Illinois, Blagojevich was impeached and imprisoned for attempting to use his office for personal and political gain by trying to sell the former Senate seat held by then-President-elect Barack Obama. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 14 years in prison for the iconic scandal. He had been in prison for nearly eight years — and was part of a rather prolific prison band — when President Trump commuted the rest of his sentence. Blagojevich was also a contestant on Trump’s former reality TV show “The Apprentice,” joining the show as he awaited trial on the federal criminal charges. Trump fired him.

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(3) Mark Foley: One of many anti-gay politicians of this era derailed by a scandal involving sexual interactions with men, Foley resigned abruptly in 2006 after a series of explicit messages he had sent to his teenage pages came to light. “The messages weren’t flirtatious — though some started that way — but out and out lewd,” one former page wrote years later. Foley would keep sending them, even after the pages left the program and continued on to college. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert ignored repeated warnings about Foley, which sure looks different in hindsight.

Sorry for (Tea) Partying: (1) Rob Ford vs. (4) Dinesh D’Souza

(1) Rob Ford: The late, great, former mayor of Toronto resigned from office after being caught on camera — not once, but twice in the same year — smoking crack cocaine. He refused to leave office until he was caught the second time, at which point he entered rehab for several months. While he was at the rehabilitation center, the Toronto city council voted to strip him of the majority of his official authority and upon return, the defiant mayor accused the city government of launching a coup against him.

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(4) Dinesh D’Souza: Before he was mocking high school shooting survivors and vomiting racist broadsides about Obama on Twitter, D’Souza pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud in 2014 after his straw donor scheme in the 2012 New York Senate race between Republican candidate Wendy Long and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was exposed. Not only did D’Souza have his assistant and the assistant’s spouse contribute $5,000 each to Long’s campaign with the understanding that D’Souza would reimburse them later, he also roped the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair and her husband into the plot by getting them to donate $10,000 together. D’Souza was sentenced to five years of probation and eight months in a community confinement center along with being ordered to pay a $30,000 fine. Trump pardoned him in May 2018, moaning that the far-right troll was “treated very unfairly by our government!”

Sorry for (Tea) Partying: (2) Anthony Weiner vs. (3) Chris Christie

(2) Anthony Weiner: The former Democratic congressman’s insistence on sending pictures of his genitals to women over the internet, and getting caught, ruined his career in politics, his marriage, and ultimately led to a prison sentence. It arguably also brought us Trump: It was Anthony Weiner’s laptop on which the FBI discovered Clinton emails days before the 2016 election, leading James Comey to make the fateful announcement that the FBI was reopening its investigation.

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(3) Chris Christie: Christie was doing infrastructure week waaaay before it was cool. While he was never pinned down in court, suspicion that he was behind a multi-lane closure and subsequent disastrous traffic jam — motivated by vindictiveness towards a mayor who didn’t politically support him — helped torpedo his 2016 presidential bid. Two members of the Christie administration were convicted over the scandal, though the Supreme Court ultimately overturned those convictions.

Seriously But Not Literally: (1) Rudy Giuliani vs. (4) Jerry Falwell, Jr. 

(1) Rudy Giuliani: America’s meltiest mayor has distinguished himself in the Trump era by bringing equal verve to both illicit and pathetic displays in fealty to the President. Whether he’s traipsing around Ukraine looking for a scandal to kneecap Joe Biden with, or free associating about election fraud in the dirty parking lot of a landscaping company flanked by a windowless adult book store and cremation center, Giuliani continues to be Trump’s man – even when it means losing every vestige of credibility he ever had.

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(4) Jerry Falwell, Jr.: America’s number one bible-thumper had a head-thumping fall from grace this year, following the revelation that he watched as his wife carried on a multi-year affair with former Miami pool attendant Giancarlo Granda. That’s a lot to process, particularly taking into account the Falwells’ habit of hitting the Miami club scene on the weekends, love of fine alcohol, and libertineism, all while running a college that fined students for holding hands and while proclaiming Trump as the political choice for evangelical Christians. There’s more on that last bit, given that Jerry only endorsed the President after his longtime attorney Michael Cohen helpfully disposed of a few naked pictures of his wife that surfaced in a lawsuit.

Seriously But Not Literally: (2) Duncan Hunter vs. (3) Paul Manafort

(2) Duncan Hunter: It’s one thing to use your campaign funds to fuel a life of luxury, writing off everything from bar tabs to ski trips. But it’s another thing entirely to throw your wife under the bus for your own wrongdoing, as former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) did, only to see her turn heel and work with federal prosecutors. She then revealed that, in fact, Hunter had used the campaign funds to pursue extramarital affairs (plural). Margaret has filed for divorce. Her husband (for now) faces 11 months at FCI La Tuna.

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(3) Paul Manafort: Paul Manafort already had some skeletons (skeletons of the foreign dictator variety) in his closet when he took over, pro bono, Trump’s campaign in the summer of 2016. His sketchy financial dealings put him on a crash course with the larger scrutiny of Trump-world’s Russia ties. His shady behavior included sharing internal polling with a Kremlin-tied Ukrainian oligarch, his push for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian “peace plan” in the new administration, and his attempt to secure Trump cabinet position for a banker who was extending him a $6.5 million loan. Once he was squarely in special counsel Robert Mueller’s crosshairs, he continued to obscure his finances, engaged in casual witness tampering with the help of a GRU asset, and, even after he formally flipped to cooperate with Mueller’s team, continued to mislead investigators. He ultimately was convicted of a bevy of financial crimes, perhaps most memorable detail from the Manafort episode of the Trump era was the $15,000 ostrich skin coat.

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