early and often

Politicians Whose Careers Didn’t Survive 2022

Sarah Barracuda may be waving good-bye to electoral politics. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

The end of any election year brings speculation that certain politicians who have retired, semi-retired, or gotten beaten may not be around next time voters vote. 2022 had a bumper crop of thwarted or completed political careers. Here are a few notable figures that will likely fade from the national discourse in the New Year.

Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi

Veteran House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made it known back in late 2018 that she intended to step down from her leadership post at the end of 2022. And any residual doubts about her intentions were quelled when Democrats lost the House in November and Pelosi gave way as Democratic Leader in favor of her designated successor, Hakeem Jeffries of New York. But she will remain in the House for at least another term, perhaps enjoying the spectacle of Kevin McCarthy struggling to stay afloat with a majority no slimmer than the one Pelosi managed with such panache over the last two years.

Democrats have honored her with the honorary title of Speaker Emerita. But her legacy (including Obamacare, COVID relief, two presidential impeachments, and calm leadership during January 6, not to mention remarkable success in dealing with her party’s many factions) has long been secure.

Thwarted Comeback Kid Sarah Palin

Probably no one in recent political history has encouraged and then dashed speculation about an electoral comeback more quickly than former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Until 2022, her last run for office was in 2008 (she subsequently resigned her governorship barely halfway through her first and only term). But with encouragement (and an endorsement) from Donald Trump, Palin leaped into a statewide House race in Alaska when longtime congressman Don Young died early in 2022. She subsequently lost twice — once in an August special election to finish Young’s unexpired term, then again in November — to Democrat Mary Peltola.

Palin blamed both defeats on Alaska’s new voter-initiated election system that included a top-four non-partisan primary and a general election resolved by ranked-choice voting. That’s convenient, but the real reason Sarah Barracuda isn’t going to Congress is that she could secure enough second-round ranked-choice-voting preferences from supporters of fellow Republican Nick Begich III. This reflected the less-than-savory rep she had among Alaska Republicans who had palpably grown tired of her act and her own fatigue with regular Alaska politics and government. She no longer has much of a future in the land from which you can see Russia.

Liz Cheney & Fellow Trump Impeachers

Throughout 2022, political observers closely watched the fate of the ten House Republicans who voted for Trump’s second impeachment in 2021 and the seven Republican senators who soon afterward voted to convict him of impeachment charges. Two of the House impeachers — Dan Newhouse of Washington and David Valadao of California — were reelected. Four (John Katko of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Fred Upton of Michigan) retired. But then four others lost primaries: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Tom Rice of South Carolina, and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington. Cheney’s distinguished role in the House select committee on January 6 sealed her legacy. But while she will never lack for employment or speaking gigs, her political career in Wyoming is probably over.

One Senate impeacher, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, faced voters in 2022, and she won, benefiting much more than Mary Peltola from the state’s ranked-choice voting system (she defeated fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka with bipartisan support). Two others (Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania) retired, while Ben Sasse of Nebraska resigned to become president of the University of Florida. Mitt Romney of Utah isn’t up for reelection until 2024, and he’s a legend in his adopted state. Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana won’t face voters until 2026. The retirees may soon fade from sight, and the rest of the impeachers may be in their last Senate terms.

Herschel Walker and Other Senate Losers

No Senate incumbents lost in 2022, but Republicans did nominate several Senate candidates with problematic political futures at best. New Hampshire’s Don Bolduc is something of a local crank who may stick around to represent the extremist wing of his state’s Republican Party. Arizona’s Blake Masters will presumably take on the next chore in business or in politics that his patron and mentor Peter Thiel devises for him. Adam Laxalt of Nevada has the look of a future perennial candidate. Both of these would-be senators have lost quite a bit of altitude.

Georgia’s Herschel Walker, though, was a political novice who really bombed in 2022, not only losing his Senate election by underperforming the rest of his state’s Republican ticket but losing his reputation as a heroic figure. It is very unlikely he will want to run for any other office and equally unlikely he would be welcome on the campaign trail again. There may be no limit to the baggage he carries.

Assorted Old Folks

Some 2022 retirees left peacefully, without intraparty pressure. Octogenarian Senate veterans Richard Shelby (Republican from Alabama) and Pat Leahy (Democrat from Vermont) called it quits after a combined 84 years in the upper chamber. Roy Blunt of Missouri (72) and Rob Portman of Ohio (67) are relative youngsters but political veterans who chose to go out on their own terms.

But some old pols will go out as losers. Florida’s former Republican governor and Democratic congressman Charlie Crist is a relatively young 66. But after losing a third statewide race in getting trounced by Ron DeSantis, Crist might finally be ready to retire.

Younger Folks at a Crossroads

Two nationally renowned Democratic politicians lost consecutive high-profile statewide races, putting their political futures in question. Beto O’Rourke of Texas didn’t do nearly as well in his 2022 challenge to Republican governor Greg Abbott as he did in his 2018 race against Ted Cruz. And he had a failed presidential candidacy between the two losing races. He’s not a fresh young face anymore.

Georgia’s rock-star Democrat Stacey Abrams also lost decisively in a rematch with Republican Governor Brian Kemp. She almost certainly picked the wrong year (and perhaps the wrong office) for her second act. But she does have a literary and entertainment career to fall back on and remains one of the great voting-rights advocates and organizers. I don’t expect her to go away for any length of time.

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Politicians Whose Careers Didn’t Survive 2022