Heavyweights in American Politics: The Top 10 Most Influential Non-Candidates of 2012


2012 will be remembered for a lot of things from the Affordable Care Act being upheld to new catchphrases like “legitimate rape” and “binders full of women.” While of course candidates like President Obama and Mitt Romney had enormous political influence, some of the biggest influencers of 2012 were people who weren’t even running for office. Looking back, there were so many to choose from, but each of these individuals deserves special recognition.

10) Grover Norquist

For 25 years, Norquist’s Taxpayers Protection Pledge has been a political litmus test for Republicans and some conservative Democrats. In 2012, that was no exception as 219 of 234 elected House Republicans signed the pledge.

Recently, many prominent Republicans have openly discussed a willingness to break with Norquist, which has called his influence into question. Realistically, with almost half of the House of Representatives backing the pledge, it would still be foolish to underestimate him.  

9) Stephen Colbert

In 2011, Colbert created America for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Led by chief strategist Ham Rove (a blatant mockery of Karl Rove), he used the Super PAC throughout 2012 on his show The Colbert Report to raise awareness of the problems with Citizens United and unlimited campaign spending.

If that weren’t enough, during the primaries Colbert jokingly entered his name as a Republican presidential candidate in South Carolina. To this day, his popularity in the state is so high that he currently polls as the frontrunner to replace Jim DeMint when he vacates his Senate seat in January.

8) Sandra Fluke

In February, Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” for speaking to House Democrats about mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. In a year that saw women’s reproductive rights in jeopardy for the first time since Roe v. Wade was passed, Fluke went on to symbolize the Republican “war on women.” In one year, this millennial went from unknown law school student to being considered for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

7) The Koch Brothers

Nobody took more advantage of Citizen’s United than oil billionaires Charles and David Koch. In addition to direct candidate contributions, the Koch Brothers funneled money into various new 501c(4) non-profits like Americans for Prosperity that don’t have to disclose their donors. They pledged to spend $60 million of their own money to defeat Obama, and it’s entirely possible they did that and more. This doesn’t even include the vast amounts of money they spent on Congressional, Senate, and even state legislative races. Though most of their candidates lost, their unlimited money was a progressive boogeyman throughout the year.

6) Stephanie Cutter

Back in the summer, Obama and Romney were running neck and neck in the polls, the economy was stagnant, and Obama didn’t have powerhouse surrogates campaigning for him. Fortunately, he had a chief strategist: Stephanie Cutter. Politico called her Obama’s “1-woman rapid response team.” She was everywhere from TV to YouTube both defending Obama to going on the offensive against Mitt Romney. She was the attack dog in the effort to turn Bain Capital from Romney’s strength to his weakness – and boy did it work.

5) John Roberts

Count me as someone who never thought I’d read the words, “John Roberts saves ‘Obamacare’.” As the surprising swing vote on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Chief Justice Roberts not only validated President Obama’s signature first-term accomplishment, but also energized conservative candidates in 2012. Repealing the PPACA became a major campaign promise across the country amongst Republicans, and Mitt Romney must have been excited to be redefined as conservatives’ best chance of killing "Obamacare."

4) Ben Bernanke

It’s still the economy, stupid. For the first two quarters of the year, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke drew criticism from the left for his unwillingness to do more than quantitative easing to help the economy. But suddenly, in September, Bernanke pledged not to increase interest rates until long after the economy had recovered. This decision was a boon for investors and all but promised that job numbers in the final months of the presidential campaign would be better than expected. Republicans were unsurprisingly in an uproar. It was good for the economy, but it weakened their strongest arguments against Obama for the final two months of the campaign.

3) Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart is considered one of America’s most trustworthy news anchors, and for good reason. A study release this year reported that Americans who watch The Daily Show are more informed than people who only watch MSNBC or Fox News. Intentional or not, Stewart continues to be a respected, liberal icon whose biggest impact has been holding other news networks accountable with often hilarious clips of their inconsistent, inaccurate, or simply inadequate news coverage. That’s impressive for someone who claims to only think of himself as a comedian.

2) Karl Rove

2012 was the first real experiment with SuperPACs that could spend unlimited amounts of money with no real accountability. Perhaps no SuperPAC was more notorious than American Crossroads, led by former President George W. Bush’s “brain” Karl Rove. Rove raised $300 million, which he used to campaign for Romney in swing states and Senate candidates. Despite all of that money, he had a rough election night.

1) The Clintons

It’s a tie. It’s hard to overstate the impact that both Bill and Hillary Clinton each had in 2012. From responding to the Libya crisis, to dealing with the ongoing hostility throughout the Middle East, to managing the Israel and Hamas conflict, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did her job and did it well. In fact, she’s being doing it well since she was appointed. Is it any wonder that Hillary is already considered the presidential frontrunner in 2016?

Bill, for his part, was a rock star surrogate for Obama in the final months of the campaign. He single-handedly validated Obama’s economic policies for countless undecided voters with just one word: arithmetic. In 2012, nobody was more trusted on economic policy than the president who had four surplus budgets in a row. Considering his fall from grace during his second term in office, has any politician ever had such an impressive comeback?

What do you think? Who do you think deserves to be on this list?