On November 8, Americans will choose a winner and a loser in the presidential race.
But along the way, in an election cycle that lasted more than a year and half, some people emerged as winners in their own right, with reputations boosted and national profile raised, while others were battered by the process, losing dignity and in some cases jobs over the brutal campaign.
Here are the top 10 biggest winners and losers of the 2016 election who weren’t on the ballot for president.
As Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway must walk a thin tightrope of attempting to manage an unmanageable candidate and being the public face of a highly controversial campaign, all while trying to maintain enough distance from Trump’s more polemical proclamations that she can salvage a career for herself when this is over. Two Trump campaign managers failed before her. But with just days left before Election Day, Conway looks like she’ll emerge unscathed, with a list of future potential clients.
It’s been a rough year for the Bush family. First, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who entered the Republican primary as the candidate to beat, got battered by Donald Trump’s bombast and dropped out of the race after the South Carolina primary in February. Then, television host Billy Bush, Jeb’s cousin, lost his job at the Today Show in October after a 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked of him laughing along as Trump talked about how he likes to “grab [women] by the p—y.” And throughout the general election, former President George W. Bush and former President George H.W. Bush (Jeb’s brother and father, respectively) have been at the center of speculation that they may vote for Hillary Clinton for president, dragging them into the middle of electoral politics they usually avoid.
A staunch member of the “Never Trump” movement from the beginning, the Republican Senator from Nebraska earned a reputation as a principled politician while his colleagues either endorsed Trump, endorsed him tepidly, said they would vote for him but not endorse him, endorsed and then retracted their endorsements, endorsed and retracted and then retracted their retractions or just tried to avoid the subject. By using social media to criticize Trump in public ways, Sasse was also able to raise his own national profile over the course of the campaign, even though he wasn’t on the ballot himself. Whatever happens on Election Day, Sasse has raised his own profile by sticking to his position.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
The now-former chair of the Democratic National Committee resigned from her position in July amid controversy over her impartiality in the party’s primary process, after leaked emails showed her and other top officials trying to undercut Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Wasserman Schultz was even booed ahead of the Democratic National Convention, after she had already announced her resignation. She was a high profile casualty of the email hacks that have plagued the Democrats throughout the campaign.
Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala managed to do what dozens of politicians and pundits had been trying, and failing, to achieve for months: deal a significant blow to Donald Trump. When the Khans appeared onstage at the Democratic National Convention in July, they called Trump out for policies like his proposed Muslim ban and said he had sacrificed “nothing and no one” in the fight against terror. (Their son, a Muslim Army captain, died in Iraq in 2004.) Trump lashed out, suggesting that Ghazala Khan had not spoken onstage because her Muslim faith prevented her from doing so. The ensuing war of words between the Republican nominee and a Gold Star family was one of Trump’s worst own-goals in the entire campaign.
FBI Director James Comey has come under a storm of criticism from both sides of the aisle for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. In July, Comey made an unusual public statement at the conclusion of his investigation in which he said Clinton may have violated the law, but he did not recommend criminal charges. But in October, Comey released a new, cryptic statement saying the FBI would be examining additional, newly discovered emails relevant to the investigation. At different times, Democrats and Republicans criticized Comey’s handling of both decisions.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will leave their eight years in the White House riding high. Obama’s presidential approval ratings are above 50%, the highest they’ve been in years. And the First Lady has made headlines throughout the country for her passionate, emotional campaign stops on behalf of Hillary Clinton. At the Democratic National Convention she coined what became an unofficial motto of Clinton’s run: “When they go low, we go high.” And after the 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked of Donald Trump bragging about groping women, she gave one of the most powerful speeches of the election condemning his comments.
The House Speaker has struggled for months with his party’s nominee. He put off endorsing Donald Trump, but eventually did. Since then, he’s condemned Trump’s comments on everything from the Orlando nightclub shooting to Judge Gonzalo Curiel to the idea of a “rigged” election. When the 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked in October of Trump bragging about sexual assault, Ryan canceled a scheduled appearance with the nominee. Ryan’s position is so tortured that he’s taken to giving speeches about the election without ever uttering Trump’s name.
The Wikileaks release of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was messy for her staff, with all of their private correspondence released to the public. But Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, emerged unharmed. Mook’s emails show him to be professional, friendly and organized, while other staffers bickered and complained about their candidate. Mook had good political instincts and stayed on message, and his chances for a position in a Clinton White House likely won’t be harmed by the hack.
It was almost a good year for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Out of 16 candidates in the Republican primary, he came in second, and then declined to endorse Donald Trump at their party’s convention in July. He was on track to finish 2016 having taken an unwavering moral position against Trump, but then he reversed course and endorsed Trump in September. (Despite the fact that Trump insulted Cruz’s wife’s looks during the primary and implied that his father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination.) Shortly after Cruz came out in support of Trump, the 2005 Access Hollywood tape of Trump talking about how he likes to “grab [women] by the p—y” leaked.