By Stacy M. Brown
Senior National Correspondent
In a rollercoaster year of political drama, 2023 unfolded with Republicans engaged in a high-stakes power struggle, setting the stage for a cascade of events that would rock the political landscape.
The year kicked off with a heavyweight bout within the Republican ranks, as Kevin McCarthy clinched the Speaker of the House position after a fierce battle that took 15 rounds of voting. The twist? McCarthy had to agree to a provision allowing any caucus member to trigger a vote for his removal. This move would come back to haunt him when MAGA firebrand Matt Gaetz seized the opportunity after President Joe Biden decisively outmaneuvered McCarthy in negotiations to avert a government shutdown that former President Trump, the MAGA prince, had ardently sought.
In terms of Trump, the year began with the former president entangled in a legal web woven by New York politicians. E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit against Trump resulted from a one-year look-back window that Gov. Kathy Hochul signed and opened in November 2022. The civil jury sided with Carroll, awarding her a hefty $5 million in damages. But that was just the tip of the legal iceberg for the wannabe dictator.
New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg upped the ante, bringing criminal charges against Trump related to alleged hush money payments intended to bury his extramarital affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Special Counsel Jack Smith followed suit, indicting Trump separately for election interference and mishandling classified documents. Trump found himself navigating a legal labyrinth, with Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis later adding racketeering charges, alleging an attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
The twice-impeached former president will be facing 91 felony criminal charges in 2024 after a civil jury found him guilty of sexually assaulting a woman.
Remarkably, amidst these legal storms, Trump maintained a strong lead as the GOP’s top pick for the 2024 presidential nomination. Some polls showed him ahead of President Biden in a hypothetical general election matchup.
As the Republicans grappled with defending the events of January 6, 2021, and new House Speaker Mike Johnson faced allegations of using offensive language in a controversial book, the dramatic year continued for Republicans with the expulsion of New York Representative George Santos. Santos became the third congressman in the last 50 years to be ousted from the chamber, facing accusations ranging from lies and fraudulent activities to bizarre behavior.
Santos’s fabrications, including false claims about his mother’s tragic demise during the 9/11 attacks and contradictory statements about his religious background, were laid bare. The Department of Justice delivered a stunning blow with a 23-count indictment, charging Santos with conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements to the FEC, falsifying records, aggravated identity theft, and access device fraud.
For Democrats, the off-year election outcomes hold greater significance for 2024 than current polling, offering a more pertinent gauge for the upcoming elections regarding resource allocation, investment, and direct voter communication. The Biden-Harris team believes big wins in the November 2023 elections showcase the Democrats’ ability to outperform expectations. Biden eagerly monitored Tuesday’s election returns, keen on swiftly congratulating the triumphant Democrats.
In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear secured a victory over Republican Daniel Cameron by skillfully navigating the state’s increasingly conservative landscape. Simultaneously, in Pennsylvania, Democrat Dan McCaffery triumphed in the state’s Supreme Court election, focusing his campaign on abortion and other rights. Virginia witnessed Democrats seizing complete control of the statehouse, dealing a setback to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin by emphasizing abortion access in legislative campaigns. From winning the high-profile gubernatorial race in Kentucky to securing a pivotal ballot measure in Ohio and gaining majorities in Virginia’s state legislature, Democrats emerged as the prevailing force, placing the issue of abortion at the forefront of their successes.
As the year drew to a close, Trump’s legal battles and the GOP’s internal strife set the stage for an electrifying 2024 election cycle, leaving political enthusiasts waiting for the next chapter in this gripping saga that has American democracy on the brink.