VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
These politicians couldn't stay out of their own way. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for political figures who made decisions that destroyed their careers, reputations, personal lives, or all of the above. Our countdown of politicians who ruined their own lives includes Donald Trump, Mark Foley, Anthony Weiner, and more!
Top 10 Times Politicians Ruined Their Own Lives
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for political figures who made decisions that destroyed their careers, reputations, personal lives, or all of the above.
#10: John Edwards
This North Carolina senator rose to national prominence as John Kerry’s running mate for the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Following that loss, Edwards made a play for the 2008 democratic nomination, although his political aspirations diminished when the National Enquirer reported that he had fathered a child with a campaign worker. While Edwards admitted to having an affair with Rielle Hunter, he initially denied being the father of her daughter before eventually coming clean about that too. In 2011, a year after separating from his now-deceased wife Elizabeth, news broke that Edwards spent over $1 million in campaign funds covering up the affair. Indicted, Edwards dodged the six felony charges against him, but his political career was over, returning to law in disgrace.
#9: Chris Lee
There are a lot of bizarre offers on Craigslist, but it’s not every day that one receives flirtatious solicitations from a topless politician. Republican Chris Lee joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009. Two years later, Lee responded to a “Women for Men” ad on Craigslist inquiring, “Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?” Claiming to be a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist, Lee emailed the woman a shirtless photo of himself flexing. Doing some online sleuthing, the woman found that Lee wasn’t being entirely honest. He was 46, married with a son, and a member of the House. Almost immediately after the woman passed the photo and story on to the gossip site Gawker, Lee resigned from his position.
#8: Mark Foley
This Republican served as a House member for over a decade until his image imploded in September 2006. It was reported that Foley sent lewd emails and instant messages to underage congressional pages. Some accusations were as recent as 2005 while others went back to 1995. Realizing that he’d be expelled anyway, Foley tendered his resignation. After two years, Florida officials chose not to charge Foley, citing the statute of limitations and insufficient evidence. The FBI also decided against seeking charges, but Foley reflected on the experience saying, “My life was over.” Foley has since claimed that he was abused during his youth and has come out as gay. He’s tried salvaging his career as a radio host, but the allegations remain impossible to overlook.
#7: Larry Craig
Lawrence Craig held multiple offices for over 30 years until he flushed it all down in the toilet in 2007. Actually, had Craig merely used the toilet at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, he wouldn’t be on this list. Instead, he engaged in disorderly conduct, unaware that one of his fellow bathroom patrons was an undercover cop. Arrested, Craig entered a guilty plea and paid a $575 fine. While Craig denies being gay and has stood against LGBTQIA+ rights, multiple men came forward claiming that the Idaho senator had engaged in sexual activity and attempts with them. Craig planned to resign, although he decided to stay until 2009 when his term ended. Years later, this incident continues to define Craig’s legacy, providing an easy punchline.
#6: James Traficant
As Mahoning County’s sheriff, Traficant was accused of accepting bribes and racketeering in 1983. Representing himself, Traficant beat those charges, going on to join the House. He became infamous for sporting cowboy boots, wearing a toupee that fooled nobody, and concluding rants by saying “beam me up.” In 2001, Traficant was met with more bribery and racketeering accusations in addition to tax evasion and making staffers work on his property. Traficant again represented himself, but this time, he was convicted of ten felony counts and expelled from Congress. From prison, Traficant unsuccessfully tried running as an independent for a House seat and received support from the KKK’s David Duke. He was released after seven years, but Traficant died five years later in a tractor accident.
#5: Wilbur Mills
It’s hard to discuss this democrat without mentioning Annabel Battistella, aka Fanne Foxe. Mills had been a member of the House for 34 years when he met Foxe at the Silver Slipper club where she performed. The two entered a relationship, despite both being married. Foxe claimed that Mills was willing to leave his wife and that she terminated a pregnancy to avoid a scandal. Controversy nonetheless arose when the couple was pulled over following a fight. Foxe tried fleeing into the Tidal Basin, being promptly apprehended. Mills still managed to secure his House seat, but after appearing inebriated at Foxe’s burlesque show, he resigned as the House Ways and Means Committee’s chairman. Mills subsequently pursued treatment, ultimately leaving politics (and his foxy fling) behind.
#4: Kwame Kilpatrick
Some politicians never seem to learn their lesson. Democrat Kwame Kilpatrick was Detroit’s mayor when he was met with eight felony charges, including perjury and obstruction of justice. Kilpatrick would violate his bail, spending a night in the pokey. Accepting a plea agreement, Kilpatrick resigned, spent four months in jail, and was ordered to pay $1 million. Kilpatrick’s legal problems didn’t end there. Violating his probation, Kilpatrick was sentenced to 18 months to five years. The former mayor was indicted again for extortion, racketeering, mail fraud, and more, being sentenced to 28 years in 2013. Kilpatrick had served almost seven years when President Trump commuted his sentence. Released in 2021, Kilpatrick now works as a motivational speaker. Hopefully, he stays out of trouble this time.
#3: Jack Abramoff
In 2006, lobbyist Jack Abramoff found himself at the center of more than one scandal involving casinos. On January 3, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion in a case regarding Native American casinos. Abramoff and colleague Michael Scanlon overcharged the tribes roughly $85 million, splitting the money. On January 4, Abramoff entered another guilty plea, this time pertaining to wire fraud and conspiracy in the SunCruz Casinos case, which involved the murder of Gus Boulis. Abramoff served about 3.5 years of his 6-year sentence, being released in December 2010. That same month, Abramoff was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in the film “Casino Jack.” A decade later, he pled guilty to conspiracy in a cryptocurrency fraud case, facing even more prison time!
#2: Anthony Weiner
This former House member is every political satirist’s dream (and not just because of his last name). Everyone thought they’d heard the last from Anthony Weiner in 2011 following his sexting scandal. He resigned that June, but his fall from grace revealed a rock bottom below rock bottom. Trying to make a political comeback in 2013, Weiner found himself engaged in another sexting scandal, losing the mayoral primary with less than 5% of the vote. There was yet another rock bottom below that. More sexting claims arose in 2016, one involving an underage girl. Pleading guilty, Weiner was sentenced to 21 months. Although released in 2019, Weiner is now a registered sex offender. We’d say this is rock bottom, but he’s proven us wrong before.
#1: Donald Trump
What was left of Richard Nixon’s reputation was washed away with Watergate, although he had enough dignity to admit defeat. Donald Trump doesn’t know the meaning of defeat… or dignity for that matter. Since serving his only term as president, several scandals have come back to bite Trump, from Stormy Daniels to his association with the January 6 capital attack. Trump has also become engulfed in new scandals with authorities finding classified documents on his property. Then there’s the Georgia election interference case, which not only involves Trump, but 18 co-defendants, including Rudy Giuliani. As always, Trump remains confident that he’ll come out on top of this. We’d say the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, but Trump isn’t an emperor… or a president anymore.
Which politician do you think best epitomizes the facepalm? Cast your vote in the comments.