The Official 2023 Winners and Losers List
Going over who won and lost in politics over the last year, and introducing a new award.
This article is simple: the five biggest losers, and the five biggest winners, in the world of American politics in the past year. But as my first full year of publishing under this newsletter, 2023 will always hold a special place in my heart. In order to properly commemorate it, I have decided to use this piece to inaugurate a new annual award for each year’s number one biggest political loser. I have dubbed this the Ron DeSantis Award for Political Failure, and I have awarded it for the very first time at the end of this article.
Who is the inaugural winner of this award? Who else made it onto the list? Read below to find out!
Winner #1: Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
She’s absolutely certain to lose the election she’s running in. Best-case scenario, she narrowly wins a single state and gets destroyed everywhere else. There are countless ways in which the path she’s taken could end up completely backfiring. At the same time, there’s no competition. Nobody else in politics had a more productive 2023 than Nikki Haley.
Her rise was very much a slow burn. There aren’t really any signature standout moments from her campaign that you can point to as the moment that brought her success. What enabled Haley to succeed was that, unlike her more high-profile early rivals, she actually understood the nature of her race. She managed to accept the fact that nobody in the Republican primary not named “Donald Trump” stood to actually contend for the presidency. In coming to terms with this truth, she saw what she could actually gain with a bid: a strengthened position within her party and future relevance on the national stage.
Haley recognized this, set out to realize it, and then did something even more crucial. She actually executed. This is the main thing that set Haley apart from her few other primary rivals who also understood what race they were running in. Vivek Ramaswamy is a good counter-example. Like Haley, he was playing for second place from the start. His goal was to carve out a distinct ideological niche—in his case, being more pro-Trump than Trump himself—that he could ride to rise above his fellow low-tier contenders. If everything went right, he could have cemented his position as a leading figure on the ultra-right. However, things did not go right. Ramaswamy wilted under the spotlight. Viewers found his performances in the debates and general public persona to be annoying. As such, his numbers have declined precipitously, and his total bolt-from-the-blue campaign will somehow end in disappointment.
Nikki Haley, on the other hand, managed to succeed at the nuts-and-bolts of politics. She managed to put in solid performances at the debates. When she met with voters, she didn’t turn them away from her with her very presence. This isn’t usually anything special, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen. And, most importantly of all, she had a coherent message that justified her presence in the race. Of all of the dumb ideas in politics over the past year, perhaps the dumbest was the idea that Donald Trump could be defeated in a primary through a campaign that drew practically no differences from him. That was never going to work, and Haley, to her benefit, rejected it. Instead, she ran a somewhat old-fashioned campaign that attacked Trump on traditional issues: deficit spending, foreign policy, even his unpleasant personal behavior.
Was this ever going to win a majority? No. But nothing else would have, either. By sticking with this platform, Haley managed to show a degree of consistency and ideological coherence that her opponents lacked. She came across someone honest and willing to stand by their beliefs, not just the mindless purveyor of a too-clever-by-half message designed to please everyone. And as a result, she’s managed to please quite a lot of people. Most Republicans still like her, despite her critiques of Trump, because she’s still clearly right wing. Swing voters in national surveys like her, despite how conservative she is, because she critiques Trump. This has put her in a very rare and very powerful position: both a future frontrunner for a post-Trump GOP and more than capable of contending nationally in a general election. That’s sure not the position she was in at the start of 2023. In fact, there was actually someone else who was supposed to fill that exact role.
We’ll get to him later.
Loser #1: Vice President Kamala Harris
If you read other winner-loser articles put out by other commentators, one of the first “losers” you'll see is President Biden. This is very much warranted. Biden had a very tough 2023. After coming into the year with momentum from the midterm elections, he sputtered through choppy negotiations with Congress and overseas crises to end it with near-record low approval. However, I’ve gone over this story in detail recently, so I don’t think that repeating it again would be all that novel. Going from there, the next best thing to look at is how those around Biden have responded to his struggles. And no accounting of this would be complete without his designated successor.
Kamala Harris didn’t come out of 2023 a loser in a traditional sense. She still holds her position as Vice President. By and large, her standing in Biden-less primary polls is the same as it was a year ago. But she is still a loser nonetheless, if only because of what she didn’t accomplish last year. Think about it. Harris was selected to pick up the slack for Biden during the exact sorts of political crises that came to pass in 2023. She was supposed to be able to advocate for him when he couldn’t advocate for himself, whether it be due to the demands of the presidency or his old age. She was supposed to be a reassuring presence that would maintain public confidence in an administration headed by the oldest president in history. And, most importantly of all, she was supposed to prevent any intrigue around who would succeed him. After Biden, it’s Harris. Simple as. Everything stays in the same White House. No need for any speculation around a new path forward for the party.
Harris failed at every single one of these tasks. She’s proven unable to properly advocate for her own administration, leaving a visibly aged Biden to do the heavy lifting publicly. She hasn’t locked up her position as Biden’s successor at all. Her polling remains mediocre, and other Democrats have swept in to steal her slot as the party’s candidate of the future. But out of all of this, the most humiliating thing for her is her appeal (or lack thereof) towards the exact demographics she was selected to lock down: young voters and nonwhite voters. These voters have not only soured on her boss, but they have become the chief problem for him politically over the past few months. And she did absolutely nothing to stop this from happening.
Don’t let her already baked-in reputation for incompetence distract you from how significant this is. The opportunities were there for 2023 to be a very strong year for Kamala Harris. She could have proven her worth to her party by keeping the base in line. She could have fully established herself as the future of the party. Hell, with Biden’s bad polls, she could be making a push to be her party’s nominee this year. But she did none of this, because she’s just not a good politician. I can’t begin to tell you how her party is supposed to work around the problem she presents to them.
Winner #2: Governor Gavin Newsom