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The Three Martini Lunch End-of-the-Year Awards

From the last Morning Jolt of the week… and 2017, for that matter!

The Three Martini Lunch End-of-the-Year Awards

As mentioned earlier this week, Greg Corombus and I end our podcast’s year by handing out awards based upon the categories of the old McLaughlin Group. A selection of some of our choices in the traditional categories…

Most underrated political figure: I went with Virginia’s governor-elect Ralph Northam. Boring, vanilla, cookie-cutter, a complete nonentity as lieutenant governor for the past four years… and none of that mattered! He won, he won big, and no matter how that last disputed House of Delegates race turns out, he will have a closely-divided state legislature, which no one expected. He could end up being not just the most liberal Virginia governor in a generation, he could be the Virginia governor who enacts the most actions on the left’s agenda.

Greg selected EPA administrator Scott Pruitt – who’s also the subject of a detailed profile by Kevin Williamson in the most recent issue of National Review.

My choice for most overrated political figure was former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who enacted the so-called Muslim ban without coordinating DHS, TSA, or any other government agency that needs to actually enforce it; the first version got drop-kicked by the courts within two days. Subsequent, more carefully-written versions have managed to survive scrutiny from the courts, indicating that a version of this policy could have been Constitutionally-sound if Bannon and those around him had written it with a wiser eye towards the legal challenges it would face.  Bannon went on to undermine the president by declaring there is no military option to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program.  Bannon was apparently the one who urged President Trump to say “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville. Finally Bannon pushed Roy Moore, and before that, Paul Nehlen.

Trump would be in a much stronger position right now if he had not listened to Bannon on any of these issues.

Greg selected House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who redeemed themselves some with passage of sweeping tax reform in December, but who saw frustrating defeats and setbacks through much of the year in what was supposed to be a golden era of Republican governance.

I found selecting the top rising political star of 2017 surprisingly difficult. In an off-year election cycle, fewer fresh faces rise to national prominence. But I noticed that a lot of the Republicans who have either overtly or subtly rebelled against Trump in this past year made clear that they did not intend to stick around in office long, such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, and we know about John McCain’s health issues. This means that if there’s going to be a lasting traditionally-conservative counterweight to Trumpist populism in the Republican Party, it’s probably going to come from someone like Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

We come up with our picks separately and reveal them while recording the podcast, and Greg had one of those “dang, why didn’t I think of that” choices: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.

There were quite a few strong contenders for most under-reported story. Ultimately I decided… “Hey, did anybody notice the Islamic State is gone?” Greg selected the violent attacks on Republican lawmakers – the attempted mass shooting at the baseball field, the woman running Rep. David Kustoff off the road, and the attack on Sen. Rand Paul.

For the best story of the year, Greg selected one that has a lot of Republicans cheering: President Trump nominated a lot of good judges and the Senate gets a decent amount of them confirmed. Everyone knows about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but Senate also confirmed 12 appeals court judges in Trump’s first year, a modern record, as well as six district court judges and three judges to the U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

My nomination for the year’s best story was the United States economy. CNNMoney declares that 2017 was “the year of the red-hot job market.” In November, unemployment stayed at 4.1 percent, the lowest since December 2000. GDP growth is looking healthy, business spending on equipment is accelerating, the labor force participation rate is inching back up again. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Goldman Sachs declares the overall global economy “as good as it gets.”  And of course, there’s the stock markets. As ABC News summarized it, “Wall Street has taken stock investors on a mostly smooth, record-shattering ride in 2017. The major stock indexes are closing in on double-digit gains for the year.”

Savor the good times, America.

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