We’ll be honest, we thought George Santos was a shoo-in this year. And while you will in fact find him here among the list of honorees (we gave him his own category, after all) we’ve got plenty of room for other people.
Some of them are new, such as the Florida power couple/throuple, the Zieglers. But largely, these are names you’ve seen before at our year-end no-shame-for-the-shameless Golden Duke awards. In the words of Derick Dirmaier, TPM’s head of product: Same old idiots.
And yes — largely, yes. But in 2023 they took things to new heights, beclowning themselves in new ways, breaking new laws or breaking the same laws more times, innovating to reach new frontiers of corruption, and just generally keeping things stupid and keeping us chuckling during the new, bad times.
We had thousands of TPM readers vote on the nominees in each category. Thanks for participating.
Here’s who won.
Best Scandal — Local Venue: DeSantis vs. Disney
It’s DeSantis’s feud with Disney, an early installment in a now-very-long list of bizarre political calculations made by the presidential hopeful who, barring some kind of health incident on Trump Force One, will almost certainly not be president. A group of Arkansans and their associates gave the Orbán of Florida a run for his money, pushing Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ podiumgate incident hard. But DeSantis beat his fellow governor, with roughly 45% chosing him over 35% for Sanders.
A reminder about the hijinks for which he was nominated:
DeSantis vs. Disney: To begin, I’ll point out there is a 1,500 word Wikipedia entry detailing all the ins and outs of Mr. Poop Map (see below) vs House of Mouse. Everything started when Disney denounced the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. DeSantis tried to retaliate by taking away a special tax status the company had had since the 1960s. Some other bickering and jockeying happened. Then Walt Disney sued DeSantis for violating its First Amendment rights. The upshot is basically that Ron is getting sued by Mickey Mouse and somehow managed to come off as a Republican who is anti-business and anti-free speech. Amazing.
— Joe Ragazzo
Judge Lest Ye Be Judged: Justice Clarence Thomas
Justice Clarence Thomas ran away with this one, with 41% of the vote. His fellow Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito, was runner up, with 27%. Thomas also won the Duke for Best Scandal — General Interest. More on that later.
Clarence Thomas’ Billionaire Buddy: The Supreme Court justice has been globetrotting on ritzy vacations with conservative movement stalwart Harlan Thomas for years, we learned this year, and even sold him property — all out of the public eye. The problem, you see, was that his salary was too low — and to his credit he had been sounding the alarm about this problem for years.
— John Light
Best Use Of A Visual Aid: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
A clearcut victory with 46% of the vote. Ron DeSantis’s poop map came in a distant second place with 28%. Gratuitous nude pics of the president’s son in Congress were, apparently, hard to top.
MTG Shares Hunter Biden Nudes: The Republicans say a lot of stuff about Hunter Biden. It’s hard to keep track of it all. But every once in a while something breaks through the maelstrom. Case in point: During a hearing in July, Marjorie Taylor Green displayed explicit photos of Hunter Biden. Who was she showing them to, you might reasonably ask? Two IRS whistleblowers, of course. What was her point? She alleged Biden had violated “The Mann Act,” which I could tell you more about but, frankly, I’ve already have devoted too many words to this grifter.
— Joe Ragazzo
Summer Of George: Dog Charity
Readers were split on the winner in this category, which honored each of George Santos’ many identities, fabrications and schemes. Santos’ dog charity scam came in first with 19.7% of the vote, but the very funny lie that he was the star of the Baruch College volleyball team came in a close second, with 19%.
Best Scandal — Sex & Generalized Carnality: The Florida Power Throuple
In this category we have some true newcomers to the TPM oeuvre, but ones with the makings of all-time champs. This couple was behind some of the most aggressive culture warring in the country while seemingly practicing what they preached against, and worse. Below is a description of the hypocrisy for which they were nominated. It should be mentioned that Lauren Boebert’s Beetlejuice incident, an extremely worthy competitor, came in second place.
The Throuple That Blew Up The Florida GOP: We couldn’t have dreamed up a better end-of-the-year sex scandal if we tried. A Florida Republican “family values” power couple, one member of which was at the helm of the state Republican Party, the other the mastermind behind Moms For Liberty and the “don’t say gay” bill, were outed as sniveling hypocrites when the woman they’ve been having a three-way, consensual sexual relationship with came forward to accuse the husband, Christian Ziegler, of rape.
— Nicole Lafond
Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy: Rudy Giuliani
The rare category in which a candidate got not just a plurality but a majority. Rudy Giuliani crazying himself into bankruptcy got 53% of the vote. That is perhaps not surprising; in 2020, when he was mid-election heist, we crowned him the Duke of Dukes: That is, an all time Duke, a sort of lifetime achievement award. Yet he continued to achieve, achieving himself a $148 million judgement against him for defaming two Georgia election workers. And so, here we are, giving him yet another Duke for his already-stuffed trophy case.
Here are the details of what got him nominated this year:
Rudy Crazies Himself Into Bankruptcy: This old Dukes standby, as rich in corruption as in sheer absurdity, took his doddering antics to a new level of financial liability this year by flouting a defamation case brought by Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman until the very end: a $148 million judgment which will likely haunt America’s ex-mayor past the grave.
— Josh Kovensky
Best Scandal — General Interest: Clarence Thomas
So of the many accomplished people nominated for Golden Dukes this year, what led to Clarence Thomas’ win over the competition, with 30% of the vote? We looked back at what various TPM readers said when they nominated him.
Money to spruce up his Mother’s house and neighborhood? To pay for the education of his ward? To buy his RV? Not to mention expensive vacation after expensive vacation.
Thomas is the grift that keeps on grifting. No one else is going to judge him, so we’d better do it!
Clarence Thomas – learning that the Supreme Court is for sale and has been for 30 years might be too depressing for a festival of gleeful schadenfreude, but it is genuine landmark in history
It seems these sentiments were shared!
Thank you for helping us to crown this year’s Dukes. By this time next year, we might find ourselves amid a chaotic rerun of the period immediately after the 2020 election, challenging the very core of our democracy. But we’ll always have time to celebrate the grifters, con artists, lawbreaking lawmakers and Bible-thumping sex fiends in public life who make headlines and make what we do worth it.