Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Top 10 Worst Trump-Enabling Takes of 2020

As we bid a not-so-fond farewell to 2020, here’s a look back at some of the political lowlights.
December 18, 2020
The Top 10 Worst Trump-Enabling Takes of 2020
(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

As we close out the year, it’s tempting but futile to compile a list of President Trump’s worst lies. Reprinting all of his tweets or entire transcripts of rally speeches would defeat the point of a list. It’s just what he does.

The same goes for attempting to pinpoint the grossest moments from the likes of Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs. It’s too hard to settle on just a few 2020 bad takes for the media figures who have latched onto Trump’s tuchus. What are you going to do? Rebroadcast their last twelve months of programming? No. Please no.

So, one has to ask: What were the worst things to lie about in 2020, and who among those who told those lies had the most responsibility to do better? The first part is easy. Lies about subjects of national importance, such as the election and COVID, rise, like pond scum, to the top. The second part of the question takes you to people who, at least in theory, have more power at their disposal than your run-of-the-mill Proud Boy-adjacent meme-maker.

Therefore, in the spirit of holiday cheer and the impending joy that will come in slamming the door shut on 2020, and to memorialize this remarkable age of outrageous, magical, and maniacal thinking, here are my offerings for the year’s worst takes from politicians and other political figures aside from Trump himself.

Let us pray we never do this again.

The Finalists

10. Before 2020, the tenure of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would likely have been remembered for his tendency to fall asleep during meetings and even during Trump’s speeches, or for defending Trump’s steel tariffs by holding up a can of soup on television. But in January, Ross told Fox Business host and resident conspiracy theorist Maria Bartiromo that the coronavirus might help job creation. Although he cautioned he didn’t want to take a “victory lap,” something no one was suggesting, he stated, “It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. So, I think it will help accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to the U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

9. Maine Sen. Susan Collins expressed various degrees of concern about Donald Trump throughout his presidency—while somehow managing to support him with her votes every step of the way. In February, during the impeachment trial, Collins voted to acquit Trump, justifying her decision this way in an interview with CBS News: “I believe that the president has learned from this case” and that Trump “will be much more cautious in the future.” Which he, of course, did not and was not. When asked about Collins’s comments, Trump reiterated that he did nothing wrong and that the conversation with the Ukrainian president during which Trump solicited dirt on Joe Biden had been a “perfect call.”

8. Back in April, White House advisor and MBS-texting pal Jared Kusher beamed into Fox & Friends to tout his father-in-law’s response to COVID as a “great success story.” Kushner assured viewers, “I think you will see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal, and the hope is by July, the country is really rocking again.” Close, Jared. If only you were talking July 2021.

7. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was willing to give COVID more time than Kushner to disappear, attributing its existence not to medical reasons but to political ones. On July 22, he vowed:

If it ends up that Biden wins in November—I hope he doesn’t; I don’t think he will; but if he does—I guarantee you, the week after the election, suddenly all those Democratic governors, all those Democratic mayors, will say, “Everything’s magically better. Go back to work, go back to school.” Suddenly, the problems are solved; you won’t even have to wait for Biden to be sworn in. All they’ll need is election day, and suddenly their willingness to just destroy people’s lives and livelihoods, they will have accomplished their task. That’s wrong, it’s cynical, and we shouldn’t be a part of it.

“Cynical” huh? Yeah, that’s a word for it.

6. The next take technically occurred in 2018 but came back to bite South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in the backside in 2020, so it counts. (Just ask the woman who made this list.) When Republicans were refusing to grant President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing because, according to them, it would be wrong to consider confirming a nominee in the run-up to a presidential election, Graham said:

I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, “Lindsey Graham said, ‘Let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’” And you could use my words against me, and you’d be absolutely right.

Democrats indeed did get their chance to use Graham’s words against him in 2020, after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18, leading to the quick nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Graham, in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported immediately proceeding to her confirmation.

When asked about his inconsistency, he cited Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 controversial confirmation hearings and said, “The rules have changed, as far as I’m concerned.” That’s right. If people are mean to you, there are automatic take-backsies on all political promises. Look it up.

5. Kayleigh McEnany—the Top Tribune of Trumpism, White House Press Secretary, Trump Campaign Advisor, and catch-all Surrogate of Whatever Gets Her on TV—unlocked new levels of toadyism while mouthing Trump’s lies about the election. Earlier this month, citing the same pseudoscientific nonsense used by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, McEnany proclaimed to the masses that the chances of Trump losing key swing states were “one in a quadrillion to the 4th power.” (Conundrum of the Trump era: Who is worse? The person who comes up with the ridiculous lie or the one who sprints to the camera to champion it? Hmm. A tree falling in the forest. Chicken, egg. Evil or stupid? We’ll never know.)

McEnany defended the insane computation to none other than Sean Hannity, beginning her argument by telling the audience how “eye-opening and truthful” it was. (Which, by the way, is definitely something somebody would say who would never, ever lie to get themselves a plum gig with Donald Trump.) McEnany elaborated: “For President Trump to be ahead as far as he was at 3 a.m. in these four states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia—and for the vote to swing by as much as it did, the probability of that in one state is 1 in 1 quadrillion. That’s one, comma, fifteen zeros. To happen in all four, it’s one, comma, fifteen zeros to the fourth power.”

Commas, zeros, powers! Case closed! Someone ought to stop her before she throws out an elbow waving more papers around or she clocks dear ol’ Lesley Stahl with a binder full of something or other.

Dual dishonors go to Paxton and McEnany.

4. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that bumps you into the bad-take hall of fame. Admittedly, it’s hard to claim that official Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend-slash-Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle has any real power. Still, we all deserve to relive the most unintentionally hilarious political moment of 2020.

In August, MAGA’s favorite former Fox News leg-chair occupant delivered an unforgettable speech at the Republican National Convention that shall forever and always remain unmatched in its disturbingly unbridled enthusiasm for all things Trump. After some par-for-the-course mendacity, like referring to “Biden, Harris, and the rest of the Socialists,” she yelled, “President Trump believes in you! He emancipates and lifts you up to live your American Dream” and warned Republicans not to let the Democrats “kill future generations because they told you and brainwashed you and fed you lies that you weren’t good enough.” Then came her big finish that truly must be watched to appreciate all its mortifying grandeur.

Kim Guilfoyle full remarks at 2020 Republican National Convention

3. Retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former Florida congressman Allen West failed his way into becoming the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. Earlier this month, upon learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas Attorney General Paxton’s lawsuit to invalidate votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, West offered an epically bad take: He issued a statement on state party letterhead that suggested that secession was in order. “This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic,” West said. “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution [sic].”

2. Among the many efforts from flunkies attempting to depict Trump in a more dignified manner than he deserves, the op-ed published on November 7 in the Wall Street Journal by former OMB Director and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney stands out for its monumental wrongness. The op-ed was titled, “If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.” But shortly before the piece was rushed online, the Associated Press had called the election for Joe Biden. Which is to say, Mulvaney’s take had already passed its expiration date when it was published. Soon it had spoiled. Eventually it had gone quite rancid.

As of today, Trump still has not conceded gracefully. And no one who has truthfully observed him over the last four years would say that he ever will. But yeah, the WSJ will take submissions from anyone these days. See the next entry.

1. The number-one dishonor goes to Vice President Mike Pence. Given his political stature, the rank deception it contained, and his choice of placement for his carefully crafted horse excrement, this was an easy call. Pence’s June 16, 2020 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “There Isn’t a Coronavairus Second Wave” admonished the big, bad media for its pandemic “panic” and said the administration’s actions were a “cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”

On the day of his op-ed’s publication, 769 Americans were reported to have died from COVID-19. Within a week, the rate of hospitalizations began rising again, and the daily national death toll was back up over 1,000. And of course now, as we near the end of the year, the death toll has risen to new highs, with some 3,000 Americans reported dead each day, and the total number felled by the virus now above 310,000.

So, who is celebrating this wonderful Trump-Pence achievement? No one outside of the White House superspreader Christmas parties? Ah. Sounds about right.

Happy New Year! 2021 can’t come soon enough.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.