The 2016 Conifer Awards: Superlatives in Maine, U.S. politics

I love traditions. That’s why, as a gift to you the reader, I present a list of predictions for the coming year after Christmas. Last week I gave you my 17 bold predictions for 2017.

A couple years ago I started a similar tradition I’d like to continue — something I dubbed the Conifer Awards. These were the Maine political superlatives, intended to mark the year that was, and give recognition where it was due.

And so, as we sit here taking stock of 2016, I present the Conifer Awards for 2016.

Best campaign one liner

Honestly, this wasn’t exactly the best year for campaign one liners.

But there was one “drop the mic” moment in the presidential debates this year, and it belonged to Donald Trump.

Finishing up a meandering point, Hillary Clinton walked right into it. “It’s just awfully good,” she said, “that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

“Because you’d be in jail,” Trump snarled, to the delight of the audience.

Worst campaign one liner

Hillary Clinton had far more to choose from than Donald Trump. A cold android lacking any charisma or authenticity, she tried reciting pre-packaged zingers repeatedly, hoping for a “you’re no Jack Kennedy” moment, each time awkwardly falling flat on her face.

The worst one, though, goes to this painfully constructed, horribly embarrassing attempt by Clinton to coin a new phrase.

“The kind of plan that Donald has put forth would be trickle-down economics all over again. […] I call it Trumped-up trickle-down, because that’s exactly what it would be.”

Trumped up trickle down? Ugh.

Biggest surprise

There can’t be much debate about this one. While it wasn’t a surprise to everyone — I predicted almost the exact result, state by state in March, after all — the election of Donald Trump was a shock to most people.

What made it so surprising is that polling and “expert” opinion has been more or less right about who will win presidential elections for decades. It hasn’t been since 1948 — the famous “Dewey defeats Truman” election — that a heavily favored candidate has lost.

Donald Trump was given next to no chance by the elite media. The most optimistic statisticians and predictive analysis said he had (at best) a 30 percent chance of winning. Talking heads were already analyzing Hillary Clinton’s potential cabinet.


Most memorable campaign scandal

Both presidential candidates had more than enough scandals to choose from, several of which would have completely tanked their campaign in any other year.

Melina Mara | The Washington Post

Melina Mara | The Washington Post

There can be no question, however, that Hillary’s email scandal takes this category.

We were talking about Hillary’s emails for more than a year, with new revelations keeping it alive every couple of weeks. This constantly reminded the voting public of Hillary’s questionable ethical constitution, and penchant for reckless, self-interested ambition.

These were qualities that ultimately sank her campaign.

Most surreal moment

I wanted to give this one to Marco Rubio’s robotic short circuit at the New Hampshire debate last winter. But I couldn’t in good conscience do that when Donald Trump actually said this at a Republican debate in March:

“And he referred to my hands if they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee you.”

Biggest failure

Hillary Clinton would deserve this award nationally, but there was also a clear “winner” here in Maine.

Untold millions were spent by an out-of-state billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, to enact so-called “universal background checks” on transfers of firearms. Bloomberg may as well have burned that giant pile of cash for all the good it did him.

Biggest success

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Here in Maine, the most impressive success was probably the Maine Republicans keeping a grip on the state Senate. Very few people — including me — gave them a chance to keep the upper body, yet with excellent recruitment and strong campaigns run by some unexpected candidates, they were able to hold on to 18 seats.

Worst celebrity death

So many famous people died this year, it is hard to pick. Many of the giants we lost, like Muhammed Ali, were old and expected to pass on. Others, though, were younger and had a lot more life to live.

Carrie Fisher in 2015. Paul Hackett | Reuters

Carrie Fisher in 2015. Paul Hackett | Reuters

Personally, I was saddest to see Carrie Fisher pass away this week. Not only was she a figment of my childhood and an enduring presence in an iconic role in an iconic franchise, but she was a phenomenally interesting and talented person. The world will miss her, and so will I.

So there you have it, the 2016 Conifer Awards. Here’s to the New Year!

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.