SNL Throwback: The 10 Greatest Political Impressions

With the 2020 election approaching, and with SNL recently wrapping for the season,  I thought it would be appropriate to revisit my top 10 favorite political impressions from SNL. Each politician will only be included once in the Top 10, even if said politician has been impersonated multiple times and has multiple impressions worthy of a mention (such as Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton).

#10- Mitt Romney (Jason Sudeikis)

Remember 2012? It feels like so long ago, in a political environment and an SNL environment that was so much different than today. A highlight of the 2012 presidential cycle was giving us Jason Sudeikis's wonderful Mitt Romney impression. Sudeikis did a great job portraying the former Massachusetts governor, despite the fact that Romney isn't the fascinating character that many other politicians with memorable SNL impressions are. Sudeikis portrayed Romney as a complete stick-in-the-mud, but not a boring stick-in-the-mud. He was able to take Romney's complete lack of interesting qualities and make that, itself, interesting. It's a pretty incredible feat to pull off, and lesser impersonators might not be able to do it.

#9- Ronald Reagan (Phil Hartman)
Hartman did a great job playing the Gipper. The Hartman-era of SNL brought SNL back to life, and this fantastic impression certainly helped. President Reagan, Mastermind was a standout Reagan sketch, and one of my favorites from Hartman's impressive catalog of SNL sketches as a whole.

#8- George HW Bush (Dana Carvey)
"Not Gonna Do It" will go down in history as one of SNL's best catchphrases. Bush 41 was Dana Carvey's best impression, and one of SNL's best in the political arena. The real HW Bush appearing alongside Carvey's on SNL to clear things up about his SNL counterpart's most famous quote is the highlight of this impression for me. It's an impression that was clearly done with heart and not hatred, and that escalated the performance.

#7- Elizabeth Warren (Kate McKinnon)
The most recent impression to land on this list, Kate McKinnon's impression of Massachusetts Senator and 2020 Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren is pretty much spot-on. McKinnon's one of the highlights of the current SNL cast and one of their best impressionists ever, playing seemingly every member of the Trump administration and multiple Democratic leaders, but this is my favorite of her current ones. She brings the high-energy (or, the energy of a mother of five boys who all play a different sport, to put it in her words) wonkiness of Warren to life perfectly, counteracting the zaniness of the other candidates on the debate stage well. Her accent, mannerisms and look were all dead-on, which was emphasized even further by having McKinnon's Warren appear alongside the real Senator Warren.

#6- Donald Trump (Darrell Hammond)
This started out as a non-political impersonation, but when Trump decided to throw his hat in the 2016 presidential race, we saw him become one of the better political impersonations on SNL. Unfortunately, Hammond no longer appears as the ex-host-turned-President, having been replaced by Alec Baldwin, but the single season we saw of Hammond playing Trump as a politician was great.

#5- Bernie Sanders (Larry David)

When Larry David first appeared as Bernie Sanders, I instantly knew it would become one of SNL's greatest impressions. It helped that David's impression debuted as part of an excellent cold open. However, it speaks wonders about David's impression that he was able to be the breakout star of the sketch even beside Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton. David ended up reappearing on SNL as Bernie throughout both the 2016 and 2020 primaries, and even in between that, during some of David's hosting gigs and many guest spots.

#4- Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond)

Bill Clinton was such an interesting president for SNL. Love him or hate him, President Clinton gave SNL plenty to work with, particularly during the Lewinsky scandal. Hammond is one of the greatest impressionists to walk into Studio 8H, and none of his impressions stand out quite like his Bill Clinton. He was able to perfectly mix Clinton's charm with his slick nature and craft a perfect impersonation.

#3- George W. Bush (Will Ferrell)

Impersonations of presidents have long been an SNL staple, but they did it best with Dubya. Everything about Ferrell's impression was comedically perfect, even if it wasn't as dead-on accurate as some others. Ferrell put his own spin on the many things that made Bush unique, which took his take on Bush beyond mere impersonation and into a character of its own. Ferrell was truly irreplaceable in this role. Even as SNL tried to replace him once Ferrell moved on, none of the others stood out like Ferrell's, and his Bush remains an integral piece in SNL's history with politics.

#2- Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon)

Kate McKinnon's HRC is a strong second-place finisher. Her impression of the former New York Senator (among other things) was likely the chief reason for her Emmy victories, having brought McKinnon to the attention of those beyond SNL devotees. Season 41's Hillary Campaign Ad is the standout moment for the impression, featured McKinnon/Hillary morph into then-rival Bernie Sanders.

#1- Sarah Palin (Tina Fey)
Did you think this would be #1? Well, You Betcha! Of all of SNL's many, many impressions, this is the best. Tina Fey has practically morphed into Sarah Palin. Even in recent seasons, Palin appearances remain fresh and, given that they're rare, are actually enjoyable unlike certain other impersonations. The sketch in which Fey's Palin and Poehler's Clinton address the nation is one of SNL's finest sketches. And also, I can see Russia from my house.

Honorable Mentions: Dick Cheney (Darrell Hammond), Bob Dole (Norm MacDonald), Janet Reno (Will Ferrell), Linda Tripp (John Goodman), Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Kate McKinnon), Joe Biden (Jason Sudeikis)

Who are your favorite SNL political impressions? Tell me in the comments!

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