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The ‘Most Powerful Political Players Of 2017’ Draft Extravaganza!!

In this week’s politics chat, we go looking for the most powerful political players of 2017. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s Draft Day!!!! We’ll have a pool of political figures, and the goal is to draft the team that will have the most influence on America’s political agenda in 2017. That includes legislation considered and passed in Washington and the states, as well as the country’s general political discourse. This is a little bit of a fuzzy concept, obviously, but this is likely our last politics chat of 2016, so I think we’re allowed to have a bit of fun.

First up: Our draft class, made up of people working in government or soon to be working in government, courtesy of the white board in Nate’s office:


natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): We just spun a marker and Micah got the first pick.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Nate, I know you aren’t super comfortable with the idea for this chat, but in the spirit of the holiday season, we’re forcing you into a group activity you don’t like.

micah: One more technical note: Write-in picks are allowed.

natesilver: Also, only AMERICANS are eligible, so NO PUTIN.

clare.malone: Boooo.

natesilver: рџ‡єрџ‡ёрџ‡єрџ‡ёрџ‡єрџ‡ё

micah: OK, with the first pick in the Most Powerful Political Players Of 2017 draft, Micah Cohen selects …


natesilver: Lame.

micah: We’ll do a little argument/comment on why we’re picking who we pick, but my Trump pick seems obvious/clearly justified.

OK, Clare is up next.

clare.malone: I gotta go Mike Pence, because … well, he’s getting all the security briefings that Trump isn’t and appears to be doing a lot of the stuff that the president-elect usually does? Something tells me that will continue post-inauguration.

micah: Totally reasonable pick — maybe I should have drafted Pence first?

clare.malone: No takebacks.

natesilver: OK, now it gets trickier though.

micah: Nate, you’re next. (I wonder when the first Democrat will be picked.)

natesilver: I’m going with Obama.

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): What a trash pick.

micah: That’s a terrible pick. Way too early for a Democrat.

natesilver: WHAT!??!?!?!?!?!!?

micah: Justify yourself!

natesilver: First of all, he’s FREAKING PRESIDENT FOR 20 DAYS in 2017.

harry: There isn’t a president emeritus.

clare.malone: Wait, is this a pardons pick?

harry: Unless you want a pardon.


natesilver: This is a 2017 draft, not a post-inauguration draft. Moneyball pick.

clare.malone: Very on-brand, Nate.

micah: Twenty days as president is pretty powerful. Although it’s 20 days as a lame-duck president.

natesilver: Also, he’s among the most popular politicians in the country by some margin. And he’s somebody who can unite the different factions of the Democratic Party when few other people can.

micah: Harry, you have the No. 4 pick.

harry: I will choose a Republican. His name is Reince Priebus, slotted to be Trump’s chief of staff. I figure he’s the poor man’s Pence. Kinda like Rick Reed was a poor man’s Greg Maddux. He’s got power. He’s got the president’s ear.

natesilver: Overdraft. Horrible pick.

clare.malone: Nate is so salty about this rubric.

micah: Reince is a bad pick, I agree with Nate.

harry: Doug Whaley knows more about drafting than either of you two clowns.

natesilver: He might have Trump’s ear for like five minutes at a time, until the next person talks to Trump. I had him projected in the ninth round, TBH.

clare.malone: Nate is playing psych-out. Ain’t gonna work.


natesilver: Micah, you’re up again.

micah: This is easy: Mitch McConnell.

clare.malone: Hmmm. OK, explain.

micah: Senate majority leader, the choke point on the Trump agenda.

clare.malone: Yeah.

natesilver: Having Trump and McConnell on the same team is pretty powerful stuff.

micah: I think I’ve already won.

clare.malone: I don’t. I’m still in this.

micah: Clare, you’re up with the No. 6 pick.

clare.malone: Steven Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

micah: Good pick.

clare.malone: The person with the president’s ear. For real. And a behind-the-scenes operator. Unencumbered by bureaucracy of marble-hall legislatures.

natesilver: Yeah, gotta say I have the same critique of this pick as I did of the Priebus pick.

clare.malone: I’m going “House Of Cards” insider picks.

harry: Oh yeah, that’s a good pick and my pick stinks. This entire thing is rigged.

micah: Nate, No. 7.

natesilver: Y’all are giving me super good value here: PAUL FREAKING RYAN!

micah: It’s a decent pick, but won’t he be so worried about the Freedom Caucus that he won’t have that much leeway?

harry: Seems like you overbought, Nathaniel.

natesilver: But I think he’s sort of the pivot point in the whole operation.

micah: Between Trump and true conservatives?

natesilver: Right, exactly. He could be Trump’s biggest ally or biggest enemy.

clare.malone: I think Ryan’s brand of think-y conservatism will lose steam.

natesilver: I can’t believe you took PRIEBUS over Ryan, Harry, that’s like the Darko pick of this draft.

micah: But I agree with Clare that the Ryan agenda doesn’t have much purchase with Trump/Trump’s voters.

harry: Yeah, terrible pick.

natesilver: Really? The Cabinet picks Trump has made so far are pretty friendly to Ryan’s tax-and-entitlement-cutting agenda.

micah: OK, Harry with the No. 8 pick …

clare.malone: Holiday spirit all around us today

harry: I have the pick of a lifetime. Are you ready? Here it is… U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

clare.malone: Oooh.

harry: Crushed it. Boom.

micah: Good pick.

harry: The Supreme Court is very important. He’s the swing vote. Lots of cases to be decided. I’ll take my medal now.

natesilver: Bad pick.

clare.malone: God.

natesilver: Maybe it’s a good pick, OK. But your team is still trash

micah: I’m gonna outflank Harry here, though… With the No. 9 pick, I select Chief Justice John Roberts.

harry: Oh, how original.

micah: I think he’ll also be a swing vote (kinda), and he’s the chief justice.

natesilver: So now you control all three branches of government, Micah. That’s pretty solid.

micah: Yeah, again: I’m winning.

natesilver: Except I’ve got Paul Ryan so you’re gonna have to bargain with me.

micah: Clare, with the No. 10 pick …

clare.malone: Jeff Sessions. In a domestically-focused administration, I think the attorney general (assuming Sessions is confirmed) is going to have a lot of power, and he’s an OG adviser to Trump on immigration stuff, which will surely come up in Congress.

micah: He’d be one of my top picks for “person who will have most influence on people’s day-to-day lives.”

clare.malone: Is that not power??

micah: I’m agreeing with you!

clare.malone: It’s hard to tell in this very adversarial chat today.

micah: Bad pick.

harry: I hate all of you. Except for you, loyal reader.

micah: Nate, No. 11.

natesilver: Tough spot here IMO with the No. 11 pick.

micah: lolz

harry: Hurry up.

natesilver: But I’m going with Rex Tillerson.

micah: Bad pick.

harry: We don’t even know if he’ll be confirmed as secretary of state.

natesilver: I agree that’s a risk, Harry. But it’s like when you’re drafting a guy with injury risk. Otherwise, he’d have been a second-round pick, IMO.

clare.malone: Or a horse with weak ankles. Tillerson is this chat’s stand-in for Vladimir Putin, right?

natesilver: Secretary of state is one of the more independent cabinet positions.

clare.malone: RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA рџ‡·рџ‡єрџ‡·рџ‡єрџ‡·рџ‡є

natesilver: I just feel like between Tillerson, Ryan and Obama, I have a roster that can exert influence in a lot of different ways.


micah: And even if Tillerson turns out to not be so friendly to Russia, that’s a power too.

OK, Harry, No. 12.

harry: I have to diversify.

micah: Speaking of diversity, it’s amazing how white and male this draft pool is.

harry: I’m going to go with a shocker … California Gov. Jerry Brown.

natesilver: WTF?

clare.malone: WHAT?

natesilver: Are you trying to lose?

clare.malone: Bad pick.

micah: Population?

clare.malone: Unequivocally bad pick.

harry: I’m going with the governor of the state with 39 million people in it.

micah: That’s reasonable! I’m with Harry.

clare.malone: Naw. I think Harry is pandering.

harry: California is also going to be ground zero for the Trump resistance, and I’d be hypocritical for saying that a lot of power is in the states and then not choose Brown.

natesilver: Priebus, Brown and Kennedy is a weird team that has no clubhouse chemistry.

clare.malone: Brown will be nowhere near the 12th most powerful person in 2017.

natesilver: I’ve got a president, a speaker of the House and the secretary of state!

micah: An ex-president.

harry: You’re all fools.

clare.malone: A Kalorama den-sitter for most of 2017.

natesilver: He’s president in 2017 for 20 more days than you’ll ever be, Micah.

micah: You’ve got 5.48 percent of a president, Nate.

clare.malone: OK, Micah, go.

harry: I got 100 percent of a governor.

micah: READY!!!


natesilver: Yeah, that’s solid. He was next on my list. Bad pick, though.

harry: What power does he have in 2017?

micah: I have a lot of institutional power on my team already, and Bernie is the de facto leader of the opposition.

clare.malone: People power.

harry: Democrats have no power in the Senate. Chuck Schumer is the Senate minority leader.

micah: Bernie will have a lot of sway on the discourse.

harry: What discourse?

clare.malone: lol

micah: The nation’s political debate! And he’ll have input, presumably, in how Democrats rebuild.

OK, Clare, you’re up with No. 14 pick.

clare.malone: Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

micah: Solid.

harry: Adequate pick.

micah: For the reader at home, Nate is still laughing out loud about Harry’s Jerry Brown pick.

harry: That’s ’cause Nate is a fool.

clare.malone: I think McCain is a powerful Senate voice, now in the middle, and given all this Russian hoopla and the possibility that Tillerson might run into a solid bit of confirmation opposition, Arizona’s senior senator will likely remain decently powerful in the new year.

natesilver: I dunno about McCain’s value over replacement senator. I mean, any senator who might defect from Trump has a lot of power, but I’m not sure McCain has particularly much power.

micah: But he’s particularly likely to defect from Trump. Which gives him more negotiating power.

natesilver: With the No. 15 pick, I choose Ivanka Trump.

clare.malone: Meh.

micah: Double meh.

harry: Yeah, you really need to keep quiet about bad picks, Nathaniel.

clare.malone: I don’t think she’ll have all that much political power once she lands in D.C. Now, commercial power? Sure!

natesilver: I feel like we’re working the inside-outside angle with Ivanka and Paul Ryan. I also think she’s an important liaison between Trump and the establishment.

micah: That’s a Harry-picks-Jerry-Brown-level bad pick.

clare.malone: She’s out of step with the Republicans, fundamentally.

natesilver: And I think she’s someone Trump will listen to a lot more than, say, Reince Priebus!

harry: Let’s be real: most of you are selecting awfully. I, on the other hand, am picking a winning franchise. #maga

clare.malone: It’ll be interesting to see if she tries to push her more liberal agenda or if she remains just her father’s establishment liaison.

harry: There’s no real sign that Ivanka Trump has much policy influence over her father.

micah: Remember all the influence she had in getting the president-elect to pick Cabinet people who believe in the science of climate change? Oh, right.

clare.malone: Yeaahhhhh. Bad pick.

natesilver: Harry, your turn.

micah: No. 16.

clare.malone: Sweet 16.

harry: Now let me pick someone who is amazing: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. I’m kidding. I choose Nancy Pelosi. There could be some populist legislation that will make its way through the Congress, and Trump may need some Democrats to help get it through. Plus, you know she’s going to try and set the party up for winning the House back in 2018.

micah: Pelosi over Schumer?

clare.malone: Pelosi over Schumer? Jinx, Micah. We spend too much time together.

harry: We have problems.

natesilver: Is Pelosi even going to survive 2017 as House minority leader?

micah: Seriously, though, Republicans have a way bigger majority in the House, which makes Pelosi’s position weaker than Schumer’s, right?

harry: Yeah, but there are a lot more Republicans who might defect in the House. Plus, I’m thinking that Schumer has a far easier time holding his caucus in line in the Senate — I doubt there are like eight Democrats who’d defect, no matter what Schumer says. Most folks who watch the House know Pelosi keeps her caucus in line.

I think Schumer is a fine pick, for what it’s worth. I just felt like Pelosi.

micah: OK, I’ve got the No. 17 pick.

natesilver: We’re going two more rounds here, guys

clare.malone: With Jose Cuervo?

micah: If I knew who was going to win the race to head the Democratic National Committee, I’d pick that person.

Also of note: Hillary Clinton is still on the board.

But I’m going to pick …

Kellyanne Conway

harry: Solid selection. Of course, the bar is so low for all of you.

micah: She seems likely to end up running the political organization outside government that keeps Republicans in line with the Trump agenda. And if she ends up in government, it’ll be in a high-level position, presumably.

harry: Can I just say that Nate’s pick of Obama remains hilarious?

micah: Clare, with the No. 18 pick …

clare.malone: Schumer

micah: Smart pick.

natesilver: Boring.

clare.malone: Thanks, man.

harry: Right after Clare picked Schumer, Nate said “that’s solid” out loud to us in his office, then typed “boring” in Slack.

micah: lol

clare.malone: Do I have to explain that? He’s the Senate minority leader. That still counts for something.

micah: He’s basically the power of all Senate Democrats in one pick. That’s not a ton of power, but it’s something.

Nate with the No. 19 pick …

natesilver: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. According to betting markets, she’s the most likely 2020 presidential nominee for Democrats. And probably the 3rd-most-likely person in either party to be president in 2020, after Trump and Pence.

micah: You should have picked Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, Nate. This is a “power in 2017” draft.

harry: Oh, well, in that case: terrible pick.

natesilver: I’ve got Tillerson, though, Micah.

clare.malone: “Rex” does mean “king.”

micah: But Trump is likely to try to overhaul the tax system in some form.

natesilver: I believe very much in having a diverse team that can wield power and influence in different ways.

harry: I think you have the 1992 Mets.

micah: Nate, you realize there actually won’t be any team here. It’s not like you’ll be having meetings with these people.

natesilver: What!?

micah: Harry, No. 20.

clare.malone: Congrats, reader, if you’re still with us.

micah: Seriously.

natesilver: High pressure here.

(Harry has literally taken five minutes with this pick.)

harry: Merrick Garland … Oh, wait. Um, I think I’m going to go with Tom Perez, who’s running for chair of the DNC.

natesilver: TOM PEREZ?!?!?

clare.malone: Seconded.

harry: That, of course, is risky as hell. Rep. Keith Ellison could easily win DNC chair. I have no clue.

micah: OK, last round!!! I’m up with pick No. 21. This is tough.

clare.malone: Stop stalling.

harry: Hurry the heck up.

clare.malone: Just do what your heart says.

natesilver: Yahoo’s gonna autodraft Hillary Clinton if you’re not careful.

micah: OK … Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

clare.malone: Bad pick.

harry: Dear lord. That’s worse than my Jerry Brown pick.

micah: The Democratic senator most likely to break ranks and side with Trump on some issues, according to our rough metric.

natesilver: She’s like the Luc Longley of the 1996 Bulls.

micah: She’s a rising star in a Democratic Party looking for rising stars.

natesilver: And you’re probably going to wind up with the secretary of agriculture, not a key Senate vote.

micah: Nah, she’s not going into the Cabinet, according to Harry Reid, who has never been wrong about anything.

harry: What a fool, Micah.

clare.malone: OK, I just said “bad pick,” but … I’m gonna go ahead and make my last selection, and I’m going with Sen. Joe Manchin.

micah: lol.

clare.malone: Most likely to cross the aisle … blah blah blah … this needs to end.

micah: Maybe I should have picked Manchin — he’s staying in the Senate, he says.

natesilver: With the — what pick are we on, the No. 23? — I pick Steven Terner Mnuchin.

harry: Went to my high school.

natesilver: With Mnuchin, Tillerson and Ryan, I could plot a coup, pretty much.

micah: Here’s why I didn’t go with Mnuchin: He’ll be overseeing the policy portfolio on which Trump has the most interest/“expertise,” so he’s likely to be beholden to what Trump wants.

OK, Harry with the last pick …

natesilver: Excuse me, Micah, but does your team have three of the five top people in the line of succession? Didn’t think so.

clare.malone: Is that how you were picking them??

harry: Nate’s just trying to retroactively justify a crummy draft.

natesilver: Plus I’ve got a current president (Obama), a future president (Warren) and a Trump (Ivanka)!

clare.malone: I forget my first picks because it happened SO LONG AGO.

micah: HARRY! PICK!

harry: I’m going with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. I think he’s running for president right now. And I just want to be CRAZY!

micah: OMG.

clare.malone: Bad pick.

natesilver: Bad pick.

micah: Even in the best-case-for-Booker scenario, he doesn’t have any power in 2017.

natesilver: Not even the best Cory on the board, I’d have gone with Gardner, tbh.

clare.malone: Or Lewandowski.

micah: Booker is the third-best Corey/Cory.

harry: Cory Matthews, ftw.

micah: OK, so, my team:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Mitch McConnell
  3. John Roberts
  4. Bernie Sanders
  5. Kellyanne Conway
  6. Heidi Heitkamp

That’s by far the best team. рџ’ёрџ’ёрџ’ё

harry: I got:

  1. Cory Booker
  2. Anthony Kennedy
  3. Tom Perez
  4. Jerry Brown
  5. Nancy Pelosi
  6. Reince Priebus

I’ll take my check in the mail.

natesilver: I’ve got:

  1. President Obama
  2. Paul Ryan
  3. Rex Tillerson
  4. Ivanka TRUMP
  5. Elizabeth Warren
  6. Steven Mnuchin

clare.malone: My team is:

  1. Mike Pence
  2. Jeff Sessions
  3. Steve Bannon
  4. John McCain
  5. Chuck Schumer
  6. Joe Manchin

harry: I’m the Indians in the movie “Major League.”

clare.malone: Readers, judge who wins.

natesilver: Harry, your team couldn’t win a shuffleboard tournament.

micah: My team is clearly the best. Then Clare. Then Nate. Then a set of six people randomly picked from the phone book. Then Harry.

clare.malone: Switch the first two and then I think you’re right, Micah.

harry: Just you wait and see. (Side note: I really shouldn’t be allowed to ever be the general manager of any team.)

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.