Tuesday, November 15, 2022


A week before Election Day, The Atlantic published a sneering story by Jacob Stern headlined "Democrats Keep Falling for 'Superstar Losers.'" The main examples were Beto O'Rourke and Stacey Abrams.
The two Democrats are among the country’s best-known political figures, better known than almost any sitting governor or U.S. senator. And they have become so well known not by winning big elections but by losing them....

The country’s electoral history is littered with superstar losers of one sort or another. Sarah Palin parlayed a vice-presidential nomination into a political-commentary gig, a book deal, and a series of short-lived reality-TV ventures. The landslide defeats that Barry Goldwater and George McGovern suffered made them into ideological icons. I’m talking about something a little more specific: candidates who become national stars in the course of losing a state-level race. There have been far fewer of these.

... never before has such small-scale loserdom so often been sufficient to achieve such large-scale stardom. Apart from Abrams and O’Rourke, there have also been other examples in recent years. Jaime Harrison made an unsuccessful bid for the DNC chairmanship, then an unsuccessful bid to unseat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, and then a second bid, this time successful, for the DNC chairmanship. MJ Hegar, a Texas Democrat, lost a close House race in 2018, then a not-so-close Texas Senate race in 2020. Amy McGrath likewise used a close loss for a House seat, hers in Kentucky, to launch a Senate campaign against Mitch McConnell that ended in a 20-point loss. This, it seems, is the golden age of the superstar loser.
The implication here is that Democrats are uniquely inclined to elevate losers to tragic-hero status -- even though the last three examples are politicians who were widely known when they were running and are now remembered only by state residents and serious politics junkies.

It's amusing to read this today, the day the ultimate superstar loser, Donald Trump, has chosen to announce his third run for the presidency, and the publication date of a memoir by Trump's loser running mate, Mike Pence. Okay, they didn't become superstar losers by losing statewide races -- but this year's top superstar loser according to that criterion is Kari Lake, whose defeat in the Arizona governor's race was called last night by major news organizations. Everyone knows she's not going away. She'll be all over right-wing media in the near future.

Oh, and another statewide loser, failed New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, is being encouraged to run for chair of the Republican National Committee by prominent members of the GOP. If we call DNC chair Jaime Harrison a superstar loser, I guess Zeldin will be one as well.

In the GOP, losers become superstars all the time. Not just Trump and Sarah Palin -- remember the 2012 GOP presidential primaries, when the last two challengers standing against Mitt Romney (a former failed presidential candidate) were Newt Gingrich (a disgraced ex-Speaker of the House) and Rick Santorum (who lost his last Senate race by 17 points)?

But what's remarkable in the GOP is that you can become a national right-wing celebrity while losing a local race. Look at Allen West, the one-term congressman and war criminal. After he lost his reelection bid, he got two votes for Speaker of the House (from Louie Gohmert and Paul Broun), even though he was no longer in the House. He soon became a Fox commentator, then chairman of the Texas Republican Party (even though he was from Florida). He has nearly 800,000 Twitter followers a decade after he left Congress.

I could name more: Laura Loomer (a self-promoting provocateur who's lost two House races so far); Michele Fiore (a Las Vegas city councilor who's an ally of Cliven Bundy and who's run unsuccessfully for Congress twice and, this year, for Nevada state treasurer (a race she almost won) ; and Tina Forte, a loudmouth Fox favorite and January 6 attendee who just lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by 44 points.

Democrats have a few of those -- for instance, Marcus Flowers, who lost to Marjorie Taylor Greene by 31 points after raising more $15 million (far more than Adam Frisch, who's in a photo finish with Lauren Boebert). But the point is that this isn't exclusively a Democratic phenomenon. Lake's inevitable right-wing stardom will soon demonstrate that.

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