Hillary and Jeb, you two had the Worst Year in Washington

Hillary and Jeb, you two had the Worst Year in Washington

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Hillary and Jeb, you two had the Worst Year in Washington

Congrats, or something.

Published on December 8, 2015

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Pretty bad year: Washington Nationals

Jury's still out: John Roberts

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

Best year: Donald Trump

In Washington, we like to celebrate the best and the brightest. Even more than that, we like to celebrate when the best and the brightest screw up. So, every week I pick a “winner” who had the worst week in Washington. And each December, I gather a celebrity panel — okay, me and the Outlook editors — to choose who had the worst year. Here are the winners for 2015, along with those who had a pretty bad, neutral, pretty good and the best years.

The “winners”

Famous last names. Enviable poll numbers. Establishment support. Lots and lots of money. The whiff of inevitability. That’s where Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton started 2015. Both were expected to cruise to their respective parties’ presidential nominations.

That’s not how things played out.

Bush ends the year in the far more hopeless position. He is mired in single digits in every national and key early-state poll, placing fifth among Republican candidates in the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey. Clinton is way ahead of her closest Democratic rival — Vermont socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders — nationally.

But the similarities in the un-dynamic duo’s year are striking: hot starts followed by the realization that their built-in advantages mattered a whole lot less than they thought. Name recognition and organization and all the money in the world can’t sell a message that voters aren’t all that interested in buying.

Jeb!

Here’s Bush’s campaign, and 2015, in one story. In September, he went on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” — to show his “fun” side, presumably. Colbert asked, somewhat mockingly, about the exclamation point on his campaign logo. “I’ve been using ‘Jeb!’ since 1994,” the former Florida governor responded. “It connotes excitement.” It. Connotes. Excitement.

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Pretty bad year: Washington Nationals

Jury's still out: John Roberts

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

Best year: Donald Trump

When Bush was still the GOP front-runner and considered almost unstoppable, there were whispers here and there among the political class that he wasn’t all that good a candidate. His people used words like “wonky” and “a real policy guy” to explain away his decided lack of charisma. A serious man for serious times and all that. Donors bought it. His Right to Rise super PAC raised a stunning $103 million in the first six months of 2015.

But after Bush officially entered the race in June, his weaknesses as a candidate became clear. He was out of step with the Republican base on issues — support for immigration reform and Common Core education standards — and tonally, his soft-spoken niceness didn’t match voters’ angry mood. He sank in the polls, and major donors threatened defection. He raised a little more than $13 million in July, August and September and ended the third quarter with just $10 million in the bank. That led to across-the-board salary and staff cuts and put an end to his campaign’s “shock and awe” strategy.

By late October, Bush was losing the “electable establishment guy” mantle to Marco Rubio, the 44-year-old Senate wunderkind who had been his protege in Florida. Rubio has a natural ease and charisma that made Bush look especially stiff in the first two GOP presidential debates. In the third, Bush tried to reassert the master-student dynamic.

“When you signed up for this, this is a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” he ventured, trying to pick up on the frankly overrated issue of all the Senate votes Rubio has missed. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

Photos by: The Washington Post and Associated Press

Rubio was ready and, unlike Bush, seemed up for the fight. “The only reason why you’re [bringing this up] now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

And scene. Rubio became the establishment guy. Bush, just another guy in the race. (He won his fourth Worst Week in Washington that week.)

Bush’s campaign was premised on an early show of strength — big staff, big money, big poll numbers — to keep serious challengers from ever sniffing the top tier he occupied alone in the first days of the contest. His strongest message to donors and voters was: Be with me, because I’m going to win. Robbed of that conceit, he and his team have fumbled for something, anything, that might turn the campaign in a better direction. The year ends with Bush way outside the top tier. He would need Rubio and a few others to stumble to even have a chance at the nomination that once seemed such a sure thing.

Clinton and the server

Hillary Clinton, for her many gifts as a politician and a policymaker, has never been the best reader of the political landscape. She, like her husband, tends to mistake mountains for molehills and vice versa.

Which brings me to the revelation — first reported by the New York Times in early March — that Clinton corresponded exclusively over a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Clinton’s response was characteristically dismissive. At a March 10 news conference, she explained that the setup was a mere matter of convenience. “I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two,” she said. And for the next several months, whenever she was asked about it, Clinton came across as angry, annoyed and overly legalistic. “What I did was legally permitted, number one, first and foremost, okay?” she told Fox News Channel’s Ed Henry in August. (“What I did was legally permitted” is not exactly an inspiring campaign slogan.)

What neither Clinton nor her team seemed to grasp was that the private server reinforced and reminded people of things they didn’t (and still don’t) like about the former first family. Some of those perceptions: that the Clintons think they are above the rules, that they’re paranoid and that they always have something to hide. An August Quinnipiac poll found that “liar” comes to mind more than any other word when people think of Clinton.

It wasn’t until shortly after Labor Day that she addressed the email controversy head-on. She apologized fully for setting up the server, casting it as a dumb but innocent mistake.

Almost immediately, things began to turn around. The first Democratic debate, on Oct. 13, featured Clinton at her competent, student-every-teacher-loves best. Days later, Vice President Biden put an end to speculation and announced that he would not run for president — a candidacy that would have complicated Clinton’s winning math. She capped off the month with an 11-hour marathon appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, in which Republicans did everything they could to damage her reputation but, as is often the case in Clinton-vs.-GOP fights, wound up making themselves look small and petty and allowing her to come across as magnanimous and tough.

Clinton ends 2015 on a far better note than seemed possible in the doldrums of August. But, like Bush, she took home Worst Week in Washington four times this year. And problems remain. She’s locked in competitive contests with Sanders in Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Her trustworthiness remains questionable for some voters. In a December Quinnipiac University poll, 60 percent of people said they found Clinton neither honest nor trustworthy; 68 percent of independents felt that way. Meanwhile, the Justice Department continues its inquiry into whether she sent or received classified emails on her homebrew server. (She insists she did neither.)

How will she handle these hurdles? Her supporters have to hope she’s learned her lessons from the Great Email Debacle of 2015.

Pretty bad year: The Nationals

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Jury's still out: John Roberts

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

Best year: Donald Trump

‘Where’s my ring?” Bryce Harper joked when the news broke last offseason that the Washington Nationals had signed star pitcher Max Scherzer to a long-term deal.

Harper was far from alone in his optimism about the Nats’ chances in 2015. Sports Illustrated picked the team to make the World Series, losing to the Cleveland Indians. (The Indians finished 81-80, missing the playoffs.)

Then the season started. After a bright beginning, the Nats suddenly proved unable to beat the New York Mets, a.k.a. the team that no one thought was going to do anything this year. By the time the Mets swept the Nationals in early August, the idea of a World Series appearance had begun to feel shaky. When it happened again in September, the postseason was a pipe dream.

By then, the season had started to feel like “Groundhog Day.” The Nats would hold a lead into the sixth or seventh inning, then manager Matt Williams would turn to his bullpen, which would promptly blow the lead.

It was an attempt to shore up that lousy bullpen earlier in the year that eventually led to the Nats’ nadir. Known hothead (and closer) Jonathan Papelbon was acquired from the Phillies at the trading deadline to bolster the Nats’ run at the playoffs.

But ultimately, Papelbon’s most memorable contribution was the chokehold he put on Harper after the young star allegedly didn’t run out a popup. (Side note: He did run it out.) Williams put Papelbon back in the game after the choke seen ’round the world, explaining later that he, uh, hadn’t seen it.

The Nats missed the playoffs — by a lot. Williams got fired. Papelbon is still, for some unknown reason, on the team.

So, Bryce: Could we possibly hold off on the World Series predictions for next year until after pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 18 ?

The jury’s out: John Roberts

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Pretty bad year: Washington Nationals

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

Best year: Donald Trump

In 2005, John Roberts won the unanimous support of Republican senators on his way to a walk-in-the-park confirmation as the Supreme Court’s chief justice. A decade later, two Republicans running for president — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — insisted that his nomination by President George W. Bush was a mistake. The Wall Street Journal editorial board accused him of being “a most political Justice.” And the National Review declared: “He is a disgrace.”

What the heck happened in those 10 years? The Affordable Care Act, mainly. In 2012 Roberts was the decisive vote that upheld Obamacare — to conservative dismay. He incensed Republicans further this year when he rejected another conservative-backed challenge to the health-care law. Writing the majority opinion in King v. Burwell , Roberts affirmed that people participating in federally run insurance marketplaces are potentially eligible for subsidies, even though the law specifies only those who use marketplaces “established by the state.” His opinion protected 6.4 million people in 34 states from losing their coverage. And his reasoning — looking broadly at the law’s intent — protects it from other potential challenges and takes the urgency out of Republican calls for repeal.

Roberts’s overall record remains conservative. Most significant this year, he dissented from the court’s landmark opinion declaring same-sex marriage legal in all states. Yet some Republicans are calling him the new David Souter — the George H.W. Bush nominee who ended up disappointing many conservatives during his time on the court. The conservative Judicial Crisis Network is featuring Roberts in an ad warning that “we can’t afford more surprises” from future court nominees. And with the aging Supreme Court a big topic in the 2016 presidential race, we can expect Roberts to receive more pummeling from candidates trying to highlight their conservative cred.

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Pretty bad year: Washington Nationals

Jury's still out: John Roberts

Best year: Donald Trump

Before this year, if you said the name “Schumer” anywhere in the vicinity of Washington, everyone would assume you were talking about Chuck — the fast-talking, camera-hogging, Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting.

No longer! 2015 marked the arrival — in Hollywood and in political Washington — of comedian Amy Schumer, who, yes, is related to the Chuckwagon. (They are second cousins once removed.)

Schumer’s breakthrough moment in Hollywood came over the summer, when “Trainwreck,” the movie she wrote about a woman who is, well, a train wreck, became a smash hit. Made for $35 million, it grossed almost four times that, turning Schumer, who was already a cult star thanks to her “Inside Amy Schumer” sketch-comedy show, into a household name.

It was “Trainwreck” that also turned official Washington on to Schumer — and she to it. In late July, a man shot and killed two people and injured nine others during a showing of the movie in Lafayette, La.

Days later, the Schumers — Amy and Chuck — stood outside the senator’s Manhattan office to push for stricter gun-control measures. “The pain I share with so many other Americans on the issue of gun violence was made extremely personal to me,” the actress said, fighting back tears. “I’ve thought about these victims each day since the tragedy.”

In October, they were at it again — this time appearing on the steps of New York’s City Hall to push for the closure of background-check loopholes. “I just felt the need to get involved because of how personal that event felt and how upset it made me feel,” she said at an earlier event.

Schumer’s use of her rising celebrity to influence politics on an issue dear to her provided a blueprint for how to exert bicoastal power. Not only that, but she made people laugh. That’s a pretty good year in Hollywood or D.C.

Best year: Donald Trump

More:
Worst year: Jeb Bush & Hillary Clinton

Pretty bad year: Washington Nationals

Jury's still out: John Roberts

Pretty good year: Amy Schumer

In June, I wrote a blog post with a direct — and clicky! — headline: “Why no one should take Donald Trump seriously, in one very simple chart.” The argument was, as it said, very simple. Poll after poll of likely Republican primary voters showed that absolutely everyone had an opinion about Trump. And among large majorities of voters, that opinion was unfavorable. Being totally known and roundly disliked by the people you need to persuade to vote for you is as close to a political death sentence as you can get. Period. Close the book.

Except that Trump defied every rule of politics after that.

He fashioned a meteoric polling rise on his outspoken opposition to anything but the hardest-line policies on immigration, despite the fact that the issue was an afterthought in his campaign announcement speech. Once at the top of the field, he feuded with Fox News Channel and its star anchor, Megyn Kelly. He suggested that Muslims in New Jersey openly celebrated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, even after fact-checkers the world over insisted that it never happened. He called his rivals for the GOP nomination “low energy” and sweaty and even attacked their religious beliefs. Now, he’s proposing increasingly outlandish (and unconstitutional) plans to fight terrorism.

And, somehow, it all worked for him. Trump’s dismal favorable/unfavorable numbers reversed themselves, a transformation absolutely unprecedented in my two decades covering national politics. With the exception of a very brief dip in early November, Trump has held the lead in national polling steadily since mid-July. Republican voters say he is the candidate best equipped to handle national security, the economy and virtually every other issue.

The Republican race is Donald Trump and then everyone else. That’s been true for the better part of the past six months. Those are two sentences I never thought I would write. Ever.

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