Biden’s Bad Year, Trump’s Legal Troubles, and Congressional Chaos Dominated Politics in 2023

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Hunter Biden, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Johnson, Bob Menendez: Looking back on a dramatic year for U.S. politics.


The United States in 2023 saw an unprecedented collision between politics and the legal system as one president was indicted, another’s son faces federal charges and a special counsel probe, and a senior U.S. senator was charged with bribery. Here’s the politics stories that mattered most in 2023:

Joe Biden’s Rough Year

President Joe Biden did not have a great 2023. The octogenarian president faced a classified document special counsel investigation. Insider reporting on Biden’s habit of yelling at staff, angry outbursts and his deep-seated insecurities painted an unflattering portrait of the oldest man to ever serve as president. The president was also forced to backtrack on his opposition to a border wall amid catastrophically low public approval ratings on immigration. Biden’s year ended with the House of Representatives voting to formally open an impeachment inquiry into him over corruption allegations and facing numerous public polls showing him widely unpopular going into 2024.

Hunter Biden’s Past Catches Up to Him

The Hunter Biden investigation really gained steam in 2023. IRS whistleblowers brought alleged DOJ mishandling of the case into public view, and the implosion of his plea deal in a Delaware courtroom changed everything. US Attorney David Weiss was elevated to special counsel status and he brought new indictments against the president’s son in Delaware on gun charges and in California on tax evasion charges. In other Hunter Biden news, President Biden acknowledged Hunter’s 4-year-old daughter for the first time after years of silence.

The Messy Rise and Swift Fall of Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy assumed the speakership in January after a dramatic 15-round, multiday speaker election, a chaotic beginning that presaged his short time with the gavel. McCarthy’s handling of the debt ceiling deal and a later continuing resolution would provide the pretext McCarthy’s most devoted opponents needed to boot him from the speakership with the help of House Democrats. After the speaker bids of Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer blew up on the tarmac, House Republicans settled on the relatively-unknown Mike Johnson to run the narrowly-divided House and preserve their majority in the runup to the 2024 elections. McCarthy, on top of the world in January, ended the year by resigning from Congress.

Trump’s Legal Troubles – and Polling Strength

Donald Trump became the first former president to be charged with a crime – and in 2023, he was charged with 91 separate felony charges. After his first indictment in the New York hush money case in January, Trump was Indicted in Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation that poses a serious threat to his campaign and freedom, charged with four crimes connected to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in a case led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, and was indicted on racketeering and conspiracy charges along with 18 co-defendants for their alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. Trump’s trial in the federal election subversion case is set to begin on the day before Super Tuesday and the indictment was used by the Colorado Supreme Court to partially justify kicking Trump off the ballot in the Centennial State. Trump was also found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in E. Jean Carroll’s civil suit and testified in a New York civil trial that could threaten the existence of the Trump Organization. His legal woes will likely continue to dominate headlines throughout 2024. Despite all of this, Trump ended the year leading in the polls over both his GOP primary rivals and Joe Biden.

Ron DeSantis: Failure to Launch

The Florida Governor’s once highly-touted presidential campaign stumbled out of the gate with a bungled announcement on Twitter Spaces, was caught wrong-footed on Trump’s indictments, and put his foot in his mouth over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. A mid-summer campaign reset, and his strategy of subtle criticism of the man beating him in the polls by double-digits did little to change that polling gap in his direction. DeSantis began December with his super PAC in disarray and his poll numbers flatlining weeks ahead of the early state contests. Trump, meanwhile, was unrelenting in his attacks on DeSantis and staked out positions to his left on entitlements and abortion. It could be worse: the campaigns of Sen. Tim Scott and Vice President Mike Pence didn’t survive the year.

The Rise of Nikki Haley

The former UN ambassador began the year polling in the low single digits. Bolstered by strong debate performances, Haley ended the year in second place in New Hampshire, rising in the polls ahead of  the Iowa Caucuses, and the target of attacks from declining rivals like DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy. Win or lose in 2024, Haley ended 2023 with a brighter political future.

Covid Fades Quietly into the Background

2023 saw the the end of the COVID-19 national emergencies put in place by President Trump in March 2020, This year also saw the Biden administration quietly acknowledge that Covid-19 likely originated in a Chinese government-run lab.

New Jersey’s Bob Menendez Becomes the First Senator Indicted Twice in Two Separate Schemes

The second indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez on corruption charges including acting as an agent of the Egyptian governments and accepting kickbacks like solid gold bars has derailed the senior Democratic lawmaker’s political career and reordered New Jersey politics. Menendez wasn’t the only longtime Democratic pol to face the music on corruption charges this year – Chicago alderman Ed Burke, who served on city council for a half-century, was convicted on racketeering and corruption charges just days before Christmas.

Fox News Pays the Piper

Fox News’ $787.5 million defamation settlement with the Dominion voting machine company over its 2020 postelection coverage had tremendous consequences  for the network– namely, Tucker Carlson was fired. Carlson’s firing in April didn’t end the legal threats to Fox News. Ray Epps, the central figure of a Jan. 6 conspiracy theory pushed by Carlson, sued the network for defamation in July. Epps himself would later plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to his involvement in the Capitol riot in September.

The Nine Lives of Ken Paxton

The Texas Attorney General, who has been under indictment since 2015, proved his survival skills are not to be underestimated in 2023. He was impeached in an overwhelming bipartisan vote by the Republican-controlled state House for a litany of offenses including corruption, mishandling public funds, bribery, and taking kickbacks to help conceal an extramarital affair, but was acquitted by the state Senate on bribery and corruption charges.

Towering Figures of the 20th Century Pass On

Americans bid farewell to several leading political figures from the last decades of the 20th Century in 2023. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the longest-serving female senator in US history, died aged 90 in September after a long illness. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger died aged 100 in November, just days after the death of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.


Return to Freespoke

© Dominic Moore, 2023