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Opinion | The Best, Worst and Weirdest Political Stories of 2021

Well, that was weird.

Much of the past 12 months felt as though 2021 came about by looking at the political insanity of 2020 and thinking smugly: Hold my beer.

The storming of the Capitol? A second Trump impeachment? Senator Ted Cruz going hard at Big Bird? Infrastructure Week actually happening? Many of the year’s political developments defied belief, much less explanation.

As usual, a smattering of people and events managed to rise above, or sink below, the baseline chaos. These notables deserve to be commemorated — and, in some cases, subpoenaed — for their roles in making 2021 so very memorable. As he was last year, Donald Trump was deemed ineligible to compete, as he continues to operate in a political reality all his own.

Biggest Pain in the Butt
Senator Joe Manchin
It’s not simply that the West Virginia Democrat spent the year obstructing his party’s legislative goals. Or that he wasted weeks claiming to be scrounging for Republican buy-in on voting rights legislation. Or that he apparently regards his constituents as a bunch of slacker welfare cheats. It’s that he insisted on being such a pious, pompous, pointlessly destructive prat about the whole thing. Mr. Manchin should take his houseboat, his coal-company money and his folksy pretensions and blow them out the tailpipe of that Maserati he was seen tooling around in.

Most Perplexing
Senator Kyrsten Sinema
We get it: The Arizona Democrat does not want to be seen as a line-toeing party drone. But what she does want remains a mystery to most Americans. Her maverick-without-a-cause shtick ticked off many Democrats, including voters back home, and spawned a “Saturday Night Live” parody of Ms. Sinema as a contrarian agent of chaos.

Worst Vacation Planner
Senator Ted Cruz
When a storm left millions of Texans shivering in the cold and dark in February, the Republican lawmaker and his family promptly fled to a luxury resort in Cancun. The social media backlash was swift and brutal, shaming Mr. Cruz into a quick return home.

Biggest Loser
Andrew Cuomo
And just like that, the former New York governor’s brand went from pandemic rock star to alleged serial harasser. Mouthy and handsy turns out to be a bad combo.

Opinion Debate
Will the Democrats face a midterm wipeout?

Biggest Fashion Icon
Senator Bernie Sanders
The Vermont curmudgeon’s puffy-coat-and-mittens ensemble set a new standard for inauguration chic.

Saddest Holiday Poser
Representative Thomas Massie
Nothing screams “season of peace” — and “crisis of masculinity” — quite like a goofy, middle-aged Kentucky Republican arming himself and his family for the annual Christmas card pic.

Biggest Glow-Up
Representative Liz Cheney
The Wyoming Republican once was best known as the warmongering, torture-loving, anti-gay-rights older daughter of the most sinister vice president of modern times. Now, she’s going all-in as her party’s fiercest champion of American democracy.

Most Entertaining Political Feud
Liz Cheney and Ted Cruz
He accused her of having Trump Derangement Syndrome. She suggested he wasn’t “a real man.” He snarked that she’d make a good Democrat. She slammed him for pandering to secessionist wing nuts. This duo has the makings of a red-hot podcast.

Most Destructive
Tucker Carlson
It does not matter whether the Fox News host believes the poison he’s peddling or if he’s just a fame-hungry, money-grubbing opportunist. With his Covid nuttiness, Jan. 6 incitement nonsense and general MAGA conspiracy mongering, Mr. Carlson may have done more this year to endanger America, and Americans, than almost anyone else.

Most Problematic Presidential Relative
Hunter Biden
A SoHo gallery debut of his paintings with list prices running into six figures — seriously? Has the president’s younger son learned nothing? This isn’t a Trump-level money grub, but it’s still embarrassing.

Biggest Suckers
Republican National Committee
It apparently agreed to pay up to $1.6 million of Donald Trump’s personal legal bills — which tells you all you need to know about the state of the party.

Most Contempt-ible
Mark Meadows
The former White House chief of staff has defied a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. For this, the House voted to recommend holding him in contempt of Congress, referring the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

Most Maligned
Gov. Brian Kemp
Refusing to help Mr. Trump steal the 2020 election landed the Georgia Republican on the former president’s enemies list. Now, Mr. Kemp is facing what is expected to be a bloody, expensive primary challenge from the Trump flunky and former senator David Perdue. This may be Democrats’ best electoral news in months.

Biggest Winner
Glenn Youngkin
The Republican governor-elect of Virginia thrilled his party by disrupting the state’s steady drift into the blue column. More impressive, he provided a possible blueprint for other Republican candidates by flirting with Mr. Trump’s election-fraud lies while keeping the former president at enough of a distance not to scare off moderate voters.

Most Overanalyzed
Vice President Kamala Harris
Is she dazzling the political world? No. But cut the woman some slack. She’s the vice president — by definition a secondary position, and by tradition a kind of crappy one. One of her predecessors, John Nance Garner, once colorfully dismissed the job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” Ms. Harris may be a historic figure — and her boss’s advanced age may have people on edge — but let’s dial back our expectations a smidgen.

Most Delicate Tightrope Walker
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Pretty much everyone assumes that the Florida Republican wants to be a White House contender in 2024, but he needs to avoid looking so eager — or popular — that he piques the envy and ire of a certain former president.

Coolest Dad
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
The baby pics of the twins are cute and all, but Secretary Pete really deserves props for taking parental leave and unapologetically defending the practice against attacks from sneering conservatives.

Most Thankless Job
Senator Chuck Schumer
The Senate Democratic leader wakes up every morning knowing that he has few tools with which to manage a restive progressive base, an unpopular president, zero margin for Democratic defections, an obstructionist Republican minority — and Joe Manchin.

Most Spineless
Representative Kevin McCarthy
Desperate to become House speaker if his party wins control of the House next year, the Republican leader has been frantically sucking up to MAGA world. Not only has he slunk down to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Mr. Trump’s ring, he also has taken to basically shrugging off his more unhinged colleagues’ most vile trolling. Paul Gosar posting an anime of himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden? No harm intended. Lauren Boebert’s anti-Muslim rantings? Why all the fuss? Such inspiring leadership.

Greatest American Hero
Police Officer Eugene Goodman
As MAGA zealots rampaged through the Capitol on Jan. 6, Officer Goodman of the Capitol Police lured invaders away from the Senate chamber, where lawmakers were huddled. This man more than earned his Congressional Gold Medal.

Most Desperate for Attention
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene
Can someone at Fox News offer the Georgia Republican her own show already? It’s not as if she has a lick of interest in legislating.

Biggest Lie
There was no mass election fraud. Donald Trump lost. Deal with it.

Happy New Year, all. Here’s to a more boring 2022.

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