Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Kevin Drum has ranked all of this year's Republican presidential aspirants and has concluded that only two, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, qualify as "legitimate candidates with a real shot at the nomination." The rest he defines as "vanity candidates -- 0% chance of winning" (Paul, Carson, Fiorina, Huckabee, Santorum, Pataki, Graham, Kasich) or as candidates whose chances are "not quite 0%, could maybe catch on if something really lucky happens" (Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, Christie, Perry).

My list would be very different (Rubio as a contender; Christie, Jindal, and Perry in the 0% category) -- but I share his bafflement:
There just aren't very many candidates who have a serious chance at winning the nomination. So why are so many running? When guys like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul ran, I understood why. They just wanted a chance to present their views to a national audience. But that can't be what's motivating everyone on this list. So what is it? What is it that's somehow convinced so many obvious losers that they actually have a shot at becoming the next president of the United States?
Let me rephrase that just a bit: What is it that's somehow convinced so many obvious Republican losers that they actually have a shot at becoming the next president of the United States?

He's right that it's not "a chance to present their views to a national audience" -- after all, nearly all of them have exactly the same views on everything. So what's driving them?

You'll say it's in order to position themselves for future right-wing grifting opportunities -- but is George Pataki, to pick one example, really going to position himself effectively for a Regnery book deal or weekly appearances on Fox? And weren't Carson and Huckabee already pretty much at peak grift before they threw their hats into the ring? Haven't they actually forgone grifting in order to run?

If you want to know why a lot of hopeless Republicans are running, maybe you should consider why Republican base voters turn out in state and local elections, why the Tea Party happened, and even why right-wing zillionaires regularly compare themselves to the victims of Nazi and communist persecution.

The reason: the mythologizing power of right-wing media.

FoxNews, talk radio, and the right-wing Internet have persuaded conservatives -- and I think this includes many mid-list Republican politicians -- that we're living in apocalyptic times, facing perils so dangerous that we'll succumb unless a new breed of heroes rises up. The right-wing media says this to its audience all the time, and frequently adds an additional message: What we need are heroes just like you.

We see how this affects the rank-and-file: They strut around in Colonial garb and wave "Don't Tread on Me" flags, when they're not imagining themselves as the Greeks at Thermopylae taunting the Persians with chants of "Molon labe!" ("Come and take them!") -- usually in reference to their guns.

We know that ordinary Republican schmucks think they're heroes of the political movies that play in their heads. We know that a lot of billionaires think they're Hitler's victims. Why wouldn't this message be received the same way by Carson and Huckabee and Cruz and the rest? Where do we think these folks get their news anyway? I bet it's not from NPR.

I think Fox and Limbaugh and Breitbart (and, let's face it, the novels of Ayn Rand) have these people convinced that they're going down in the history books as the brave warriors who fought the Stalinist tyranny of Obamacare or IRS scrutiny of political groups seeking non-profit status. Yes, even George Pataki.


Never Ben Better said...

That theory makes about as much sense as anything. The right wing certainly do inhabit their own counterfactual bubble.

Victor said...

I agree with NBB - that theory's about as good as any other. And better than most.

The GOP candidates are like grapes in a bunch - they all are very much alike.

And I think these grapes all want their moment to bathe in the spotlight and whine about conservative and "Christian" victimhood, before the glare of the sunlight of demographic reality turns them into wrinkled old raisins.

petrilli said...

Heros and anti-heros are an interesting subject. I know that as a teenager, I rooted for Bobby in Five Easy Pieces in the diner scene. Now, I root for the waitress. Why would any Republican identify with Hunger Games' Katniss for example? Yet they do. Even though President Snow is the the most deserving of their empathy. The Manichean mind does not do nuance. Or content for that matter. To Republicans, they see the Justice League. We see a clown car.

Ed Baptist said...

I do like the concept of peak grift. Most of them do seem to auditioning for the Fox News spot that Huckabee left.

mlbxxxxxx said...

I think part of the calculation is that, in so large of a field, it seems possible to win/place, or show in any given primary contest with a relatively small slice of the vote. I can see a Pataki thinking that, with so many splitting the hard right vote and dissatisfaction with Bush apparently growing, he might look like a winner in comparison. Somewhat paradoxically, the larger the field gets, the more likely for marginal candidates to see a path to victory.

Scott Peterson said...

I think a lot of them look at George W. Bush and think, "if that guy can win two terms, I'm sure I can win one, especially given what a mess the Democrats have made of this country and how everyone knows it's still very clearly a center-right nation."

That's what I think is driving people like Kasich, Pataki, Jindal and Christie; I don't think they're true believers, like Sam Brownback or Rand Paul, I think they're professional politicians and narcissists who think they'd do a good job and what the heck, why not them? I think they look at 2012, and think, hey, worst case scenario, they get a veep slot like not-dissimilar dweeb Paul Ryan.

And if I'm recalling correctly (and I might not be), Tim Pawlenty dropped out just weeks too early last time, and might actually have been able to give Romney a run for the nomination as generic but not quite as robotic white guy if he'd stayed in just a bit longer.

Unknown said...

per milbxxxxxxx - It's purity thinking. With the marginally arguable exception of Randall Paul, the standard deviation among them is minute, certainly under 5%, possibly less than 1%. However, each and every one deviates from either all the others or the consensus of them in some way, no matter how practically irrelevant. So, each sees himself (literally: Fiorina is in the race on one [1], and only one [1], utterly unique and ludicrously transparent basis) as the Only Truly Pure Hero (literally: Fiorina once again).

It's almost encouraging to consider how unlikely it is that the number of them will even reach 20, not because that 'small' number, in contrast with their clan lies in the tens of millions, reflects positively on the sanity of those of it not running, or of the others in the vast majority of it having some better control over their egos, but, and chiefly, for what it says about the essential griftiness in their enterprise.