Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): OK, welcome all. Today we’re doing a “MOST POWERFUL POLITICAL PLAYERS OF 2018 DRAFT!!!!!!!” The idea here is both to look back on our 2017 picks and see how horrible they were and to preview what we’re looking for in 2018.
In case you forgot: The goal is to pick a team that will have the most influence over politics, policy and the national discourse in 2018.
Here are the final teams we drafted for 2017:
Our old, 2017 ‘power draft’ teams
clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): My team was good.
I HAVE NO REGRETS! (Except maybe, like, Rex Tillerson.)
micah: Harry’s team is the worst?
clare.malone: 100 percent.
harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): I’m still impressed by my Ben Ray Luján pick!!!
micah: Nate’s last three picks are
My only bad pick was Tom Price, former Health and Human Services Secretary.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an overdraft
micah: No way.
natesilver: Yes Shway.
harry: Oh lord.
clare.malone: Well, we are all very glad to have Perry in on this year’s fun.
micah: Let’s start the new draft!
Remember, it’s a snake draft. Everyone pick a number between 1 and 100 so we can determine the order. Nate has a random number generator.
perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): 14
natesilver: OK, i’m gonna randomly pick the number … Micah will observe.
The number is … 39!
harry: This is trash.
natesilver: So order is Nate, Harry, Perry, Clare, Micah.
micah: Remember, this is for 2018!
We’ll do five rounds — we’ll go one-by-one in the first three and round-by-round for the last two.
natesilver: With the first pick of the 2018 power players draft, the New York Nates select … Donald J. Trump, president of the United States.
micah: Bad pick.
natesilver: Oh come on, dude.
natesilver: I wouldn’t trade Trump for your next three picks combined.
micah: I mean, because we include influence over the national discourse, it’s a good pick. If we were drafting for influence over policy only, I could argue it’s an overrated pick.
natesilver: We’re talking about a man who can lead us to war.
Or back us into war.
micah: I’m just saying that — given his level of involvement in the crafting of legislation — he has less influence over the nation’s business than your average president.
harry: I mean, that’s true.
natesilver: Wait, is it true? It seems … uh … not true. He totally drives “the conversation” more than any other president.
clare.malone: I’m not sure that’s true in the age of the imperial presidency!
Presidents inherently have huuuuuuge power.
perry: In terms of influence over policy, Congress has probably done its big bill (taxes), so much of the policy will be foreign affairs and executive branch stuff in 2018. That’s really Trump.
natesilver: Yeah, and what Perry said.
micah: Perry and Clare, I’m just trying to criticize Nate’s pick — stop taking his side.
clare.malone: Excited to spend the next hour with you all on this.
micah: Harry, with the No. 2 pick.
harry: Folks, I’m going to shock the world.
clare.malone: Al Franken.
harry: Here it is….
Are you ready?
natesilver: Bad pick.
harry: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Boom CRUSHED IT.
natesilver: Oh my fucking god.
micah: It’s a 2018 draft, Harry! Not 2020!
natesilver: Darko Milicic.
clare.malone: Explain, Harry.
harry: OK, it’s pretty simple for me: Democrats are in a position to take back one or maybe both chambers in Congress. Well-educated women are leading that charge. Democrats will have some overarching message, and I chose the person who has been the most anti-Trump and the most outspoken. She’s also in the New York media market.
She is very important to the public discourse.
micah: That’s all fair.
perry: It really isn’t.
micah: Hit him hard, Perry!
clare.malone: Totally fair arguments, but she is not a good No. 2 pick.
perry: And the next five to six picks will show why. Gillibrand is not going to be a big player compared to lots of others. Is she the most important woman in Congress, even? I think no …
harry: Again, this is discourse, not policy. Just so I’m clear.
clare.malone: Wait … it’s POWER, not discourse or policy. Right? And all the trappings that come with that: driving conversation, wrangling, etc.
micah: It is power over discourse and policy and everything politics!
perry: Gillibrand basically removed a senator (Franken). That is power. But I don’t think she will do that again in 2018.
clare.malone: You think Nancy Pelosi’s still the most important woman in Congress, Perry?
perry: Yes, Pelosi.
micah: Don’t answer that!
clare.malone: I feel like that’s a good transition to Perry’s Pick (TM).
micah: Perry, with the No. 3 pick!!!
perry: Robert Mueller.
clare.malone: Yeah. Good choice.
micah: Yup. Special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential connections with the Trump campaign; that’s a big job.
perry: I could make a case for him being No. 1, even. He could change the course of the presidency if he brings charges against Trump. Or if he clears Trump or never charges him and ends the investigation — that would be a huge win for the president.
natesilver: What if he gets fired next week, though?
perry: What he says in the wake of that firing would be huge. FBI Director James Comey was fired and that was a disaster for Trump.
micah: OK, here’s my anti-picking-Mueller argument: He could get fired, as Nate said. Also, he’s a straight-down-the-line guy. He’s basically at the mercy of whatever the facts on the ground are. So he’s only playing out a string.
To be clear, I don’t buy that argument.
natesilver: Yeah, I don’t buy it either. But I also don’t see how he could be ranked ahead of Trump.
harry: Mueller is the type of guy who many in the press think is important, but many voters don’t care about.
micah: Clare, with the No. 4 pick.
clare.malone: There are so many names to parse through.
micah: I know my pick.
My next two, in fact!
clare.malone: Bully for you.
I’m going to go with a 2018 wave-themed pick: Nancy Pelosi, Democratic minority leader in the House.
micah: Oh god.
That’s a Harry-level bad pick.
natesilver: No, it’s better than Harry’s pick.
micah: Even if Democrats win the House, Pelosi wouldn’t become speaker until 2019 (and that’s assuming she does become speaker).
perry: Actually, Pelosi has essentially already forced out two members of Congress (John Conyers; Ruben Kihuen), one more than Gillibrand.
clare.malone: Ben Ray Luján is who I should have picked, right, Harry?
harry: That’s right.
natesilver: Pelosi could also influence whether impeachment proceedings against Trump begin this year.
People, Democrats are in the minority in the House.
natesilver: Let’s say Trump fires Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or something. Is that grounds for impeachment? Could depend a lot on whether Pelosi wants to press the case.
clare.malone: Anyhow, here’s what I figure: She’s still a powerful fundraising, wrangling force in the party. (See my definition of power above.) And the Democrats might be heading into a little upswing, and might be tangling with Trump over DACA, etc.
perry: She will have huge influence over how the Democrats campaign in 2018, which matters for 2019. She will be a huge player in deciding if Democrats make impeachment a campaign issue this year.
harry: Micah’s probably thinking of picking Martin O’Malley, so don’t listen to him.
natesilver: I will note that Pelosi was NOT DRAFTED in our previous power players draft
micah: I have the No. 5 and No. 6 picks …
With the No. 5 pick, I select …
Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court justice.
clare.malone: Snipin’ my team, huh.
harry: Ah, good old Tony K.
micah: And with the No. 6 pick I select …
John Kelly, chief of staff to the president.
perry: Excellent choices.
natesilver: One good pick and one bad pick there, Micah.
clare.malone: Crap. Kelly was mine.
harry: I think they are both terrible.
natesilver: No, Kelly is a bad pick.
clare.malone: No way.
micah: Nate, you’re wrong.
natesilver: Go back and look at our previous power player drafts and you’ll find that the people for whom the argument is “this person has Trump’s ear” always turn out to be crap picks because that changes so quickly.
micah: I don’t think Kelly’s power comes from having Trump’s ear.
natesilver: What power has he actually demonstrated so far?
clare.malone: He reportedly fired/forced out Omarosa.
micah: Kelly’s power is literal, in the sense that he has lots of control over White House personnel, as well as what information gets into the Oval Office (much more than former chief Reince Priebus, it seems). But he also has symbolic power, because so much of Trump’s credibility with other players in Washington rests on Kelly.
If Kelly gets forced out, whatever he says will be hugely impactful. He knows all.
natesilver: Oh come on, you could have said the same about Steve Bannon.
And that pick — which I made in the fourth round last time — hasn’t aged well.
micah: No, I wouldn’t have said Bannon controlled the information flow.
And I wouldn’t have said that any of Trump’s credibility rested on Bannon.
natesilver: But you’d have said something equally bullshitty about him.
clare.malone: OK, you guys done fighting?
micah: Quiet power is still power!
perry: I think the dismissal of Kelly will be a big story if that happens. And if he stays, I think that means Trump has stayed somewhat normal (not fired Mueller, for example). Kennedy is big because the Supreme Court has big decisions coming up on gerrymandering and gay rights, and he is the swing vote. Kennedy could be No. 2.
natesilver: Yeah, the gerrymandering thing is a big deal for 2018, potentially.
micah: Lots of SCOTUS cases coming up that could literally redraw the political map.
harry: Just a quick add: I wouldn’t be surprised if John Roberts plays a bigger role than people think, so that may decrease Kennedy’s influence.
micah: OK, Clare with the No. 7 pick.
clare.malone: Vice President Mike Pence.
natesilver: Good pick.
clare.malone: I think if the investigation of Trump goes … certain ways, Pence is on the up-and-up. And he’ll stop being so DL about his accumulation of power and dolla dolla bills.
Richard Nixon was only eventually forced out because he lost Gerald Ford’s vouching for him.
natesilver: I mean, there’s a nontrivial chance that Pence could become president next year, so start with that.
And if he turned on Trump, that would be a big deal too.
harry: I’ll add his being the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. That becomes a lot more nontrivial as Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama joins the chamber.
micah: Remember when Nate picked Obama in the first round?
natesilver: Obama was freaking president for part of this year! I don’t see how one can justify taking Kelly over Pence.
micah: Odds are that Pence will not have any official power when 2018 ends.
perry: Pence will not break from Trump. Or say anything interesting. Pence had virtually no influence in 2017. I guess former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to him and Pence allegedly being mad about it mattered. I think.
micah: That’s the modal outcome.
Right. I’m with Perry.
natesilver: We’re drafting for UPSIDE, though. Trust the process.
micah: Stop making up new goals for the draft.
We’re drafting for POWER!
harry: Remember when Pence led a movement that got Franken expelled? Oh, wait. That was Gillibrand. That’s why my pick was freaking awesome.
micah: OK, Perry with the No. 8 pick.
perry: Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader.
harry: I got no beef with that pick.
micah: I do.
natesilver: One could argue that the Senate isn’t going to pass much in 2018.
clare.malone: Yeah, that’s why I wouldn’t pick him that high.
I think McConnell will not only see a post-tax bill ebb in Washington power, but he’s a toxic force out there in the states for Republicans who are running as anti-establishment.
perry: Confirmations matter, and they go through the Senate, including if a seat on the Supreme Court opens up or the secretary of state needs to be replaced. Also, the only real Russia investigation in Congress is happening in the Senate. And McConnell, unlike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, might really break with Trump in some strong way. Remember how McConnell behaved in August? McConnell is also likely to fight in primaries against Tea Party candidates.
micah: He might fight them, but he’ll lose.
natesilver: Perry is right. McConnell is clearly better than anyone else on the board.
harry: You wanna bet, Nathaniel? I bet you my pick crushes.
clare.malone: Do tell.
micah: With the No. 9 pick, Harry selects …
natesilver: Harry just said, “I can’t remember the name.”
micah: Not a great sign.
harry: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Nailed it, boom. (Note: I fully expect him to be fired soon.)
natesilver: Wait, are you messing with us?
micah: Are you deliberately throwing this?
harry: I love this draft!
clare.malone: Performance art.
micah: Make your argument.
natesilver: No, let’s not waste anyone’s time.
Just move on to the next pick.
micah: I mean, these drafts are always 50 percent farcical. But, Harry …
harry: I saw “The Disaster Artist” this weekend. I just think we hear more about Tillerson than most administration officials. Foreign policy is going to be a big deal. His firing could set off a firestorm.
micah: That’s not totally crazy.
Nate with the No. 10 pick.
natesilver: OK. I’m going with House Speaker Paul Ryan.
harry: In all seriousness, I nearly went with Ryan. I just thought it was boring.
micah: He might not even be speaker soon.
natesilver: He’s probably on the way out the door. But in some ways, that makes him more “dangerous” in the short run. He could do things that are politically unpopular with the general public — like big cuts to welfare programs.
Or he could turn on Trump since he was a lame duck anyway.
clare.malone: I think Ryan is too much of a party guy to ever do that
micah: He’ll say, “I have serious concerns about the president’s decision.”
natesilver: Yeah, I think Mueller would rise above that level.
What if Trump fires Mueller? And Ryan is worried about trying to protect his majority, or at least mitigate the damage?
perry: If he pushes a Medicare reform/cuts plan, that has the potential to turn a wave into whatever is worse than a wave. Ryan as a lame duck is a big policy danger for Republicans. He favors stuff that is even more unpopular than this tax plan.
micah: Nate, pick.
natesilver: OK, with the No. 11 pick, I take Chief Justice John Roberts.
I got ALL THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT, YO!!!!
clare.malone: I do respect spreading the power.
micah: That was my original team.
Harry, with No. 12.
natesilver: Harry’s gonna pick Ralph Northam.
harry: I select Mike Rounds. I’m kidding. I’m going with Jeff Sessions.
micah: Good pick.
harry: I DID IT!!!!!!
perry: Sessions has big policy influence; less on discourse. But I think he set most of his policies in 2017.
micah: Perry, please pick the No. 13 person.
perry: Sean Hannity, Fox News host.
He really matters to the conservative discourse. And I think he is going to defend Trump in ways that are problematic for the rest of the party, like leading the push to fire Mueller or Rosenstein.
harry: Hannity is this draft’s version of me picking Rachel Maddow.
clare.malone: No, I think it’s a good pick.
micah: That’s a hard pick to judge.
clare.malone: Hannity influences the GOP base enormously.
micah: Or does he just reflect the base? Is he the tail or the dog?
perry: I agree that it’s hard to measure his impact on discourse.
natesilver: One might argue that Hannity doesn’t have that much influence because there’s no chance he’ll turn on Trump.
He’s not a “swing” vote, so to speak.
harry: Hannity is a partisan. He toes the party line.
perry: Micah is right: I’m not sure. I think my question is not if he will swing against Trump, but does he call for things (firing Mueller or Rosenstein, for example) that are extreme, and thus put the party in a bind.
micah: Clare, with the No. 14 pick!!!
clare.malone: You guys are going to ridicule me, but…
clare.malone: Bannon is still going to make trouble in Republican primaries and cause chaos. That’s a power of sorts. And it could cost the party seats.
natesilver: That’s not a ridiculous pick, but something feels weird about how Bannon went from being picked in the fourth round last time to the third round this time.
He might have some influence, but I don’t buy that he has more influence on the outside than the inside.
Also, it seems possible that some of the people in his orbit will peel off after the Roy Moore debacle.
clare.malone: I definitely think that could happen. But he’s a powerful enough pest to be a pest for the full year.
micah: OK, so with the No. 15 pick, I select Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
harry: Oh lord.
micah: If the GOP tries to do entitlement reform in 2018, Collins will wield a ton of power.
harry: Unless there’s a senator absent, she needs another partner in crime to wield power.
natesilver: I mean … meh? There’s also a universe in which the Senate is split 50-50 after the November elections and she might think about switching parties.
micah: You beat me to it! Switching parties is an underrated possibility.
natesilver: It’s not that uncommon, historically.
micah: OK, so now let’s do the fourth round. Everyone give their picks, and then we’ll debate the whole round as a group. The order is me, Clare, then Perry, then Harry, then Nate.
With the No. 16 pick, I select Michael Flynn.
clare.malone: Mike Pompeo, CIA director.
perry: Mike Pompeo.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
harry: Mitt Romney.
natesilver: Going to go with a little bit of a sleeper here … Kirsten Gillibrand.
natesilver: I’ll take Chuck Schumer.
harry: Should have gone with Bill de Blasio.
micah: Micah had the best pick that round.
Flynn could bring down the whole administration if there’s a there there!
natesilver: Is he credible enough to do so?
micah: He’ll likely have documentation
clare.malone: I think the kids call it “receipts.”
perry: Foreign policy is big, so Pompeo will matter if he stays at CIA or moves to the State Department. So that is why I was going to pick him.
Cotton is also an important adviser on foreign policy to Trump, whether he joins the Cabinet or not. If we are talking about war with North Korea, those two matter.
harry: I have no problem with Flynn as a pick. If Trump or people close to Trump go down because of Mueller, it’s likely that Flynn will play at least some role in that.
clare.malone: Perry has explained my pick.
Sorry for picking it, but great minds!
micah: OK, LAST ROUND!!!!!
Nate -> Harry -> Perry -> Clare -> Micah
natesilver: Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general.
harry: I’m panicking. I don’t know who to pick. It’s tough. It’s crazy out there. I’m going to select with the biggest pick that I’ve ever made …
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary.
perry: Jared Kushner.
clare.malone: John Dowd, Trump attorney.
micah: Joe Biden.
micah: He’s running. Will play a kingmaker role in midterms. Etc.
natesilver: Dan Quayle wasn’t available?
clare.malone: What about Bernie?
We maybe overlooked him.
micah: I’m very meh on Bernie.
harry: I’d like to reverse my selection and select Fritz Mondale.
perry: Bernie’s impact in terms of the Senate may be important as well. Biden campaigned for Jones, but did that matter?
I’m not so sure it did.
natesilver: One of the more interesting developments is how Bernie actually hasn’t been at the forefront of many of the conversations this year. That’s why I gravitated more toward people with some sort of official position of power. Still, Bernie deserved to go ahead of some of the more dubious picks in the last round or two.
micah: Lots of people who were picked last time were not picked this time: Hillary Clinton, Dan Coats, Ivanka Trump, Rupert Murdoch, Rachel Maddow!!!
perry: Ivanka Trump has really made no difference.
Lots of those pieces written about her were kind of a waste.
micah: Very much so.
natesilver: Who picked Kushner?
perry: I did.
Kushner matters to the Russia investigation, in that he will be cleared or not cleared and that matters.
natesilver: I thought that was an underrated pick in the sense of Kushner could give Trump some very bad advice … or Trump could pardon Kushner.
micah: Trump pardoning Kushner doesn’t make Kushner powerful!
We have this debate every time! Power is active, not passive!!!!!!!!
OK, here are the teams:
Our 2018 ‘power draft’ teams
harry: My finest draft ever. I’ll be collecting my awards later today.
micah: OK, everyone vote for a winner. You can’t vote for yourself.
Then we’re done.
perry: Nate picked five people who are in the center of the action. That seems like the best plan and the best group.
micah: Ugh. I vote for Nate’s team too.
harry: I vote for myself.
micah: You can’t.
harry: If I don’t vote for myself, then who will?
micah: No one. Your team is bad.
natesilver: Recusing my own team, I’d rank the other four teams:
[really big gap]
clare.malone: I vote for Nate’s, probably.
harry: Clare Malone.
My main takeaway: Nate doesn’t appreciate John Kelly’s power.