Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why losers pretend they're still running for president

On March 16 (the day after Super Tuesday II), I posted this declaring both nominations essentially settled.  I briefly toyed with a ridiculous conspiracy theory about the Republicans nominating Cruz to screw both him and Trump, but even that was a thought I described as "spit-balling."  Hillary had this thing in the bag long, long ago, and stopping Trump now would require something like a secret phone recording of Bill urging Trump to run as a secret plot to destroy the Republican Party.  We're done here.

And yet, not everyone seems to understand that. In particular, we still have some candidates pretending that their campaigns are viable.  Why?  Time for some more spit-balling.  Political science doesn't really have an answer to why some candidates stay in the race long after their fates have been decided.  Why?  Because we don't generally bother studying the losers.  Maybe we should.  So, here are some thoughts, not 100% original, but it is worth thinking about the competing ideas.  Why might losers stay in the race?

1)  The protest campaign

The most obvious reason is that a protest candidate doesn't run to win anyway.  A protest candidate gives voters an option other than the inevitable winner, generally as an ideological statement.  Ron Paul used to be the Republican version of this.  He never had a chance to win, but his goal was to pull the Republican Party to the right by showing how much support he had.  For such candidates, winning isn't the point.  The point is to make a symbolic showing about the size of a faction within the party.  So, they have to stay in the race until the official end.

The fact that Rand dropped out so long ago demonstrated that he was, well, delusional.  He wasn't running as a protest candidate.  He actually thought he could win, the sap!  So, what about Bernie?  In all likelihood, he started as a pure protest candidate, knowing that he couldn't win, with the goal of pulling Hillary and the Democratic Party to the left.  There is, in fact, another similarity between Bernie and Ron Paul.  Paul ran for president in 1988 as the Libertarian Party nominee.  Bernie runs for his Senate seat in Vermont as an independent.  Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul were both ideologues with minimal connection to the party whose nominations they sought.  Dead giveaway that the candidate at least starts as just a protest candidate.  Where they end, though, well, we'll get to that.

2)  Positioning for the next race

Remember how Hillary stayed in 2008 to the end?  She's the nominee this time.  Did she help herself by staying in until the end in 2008?  Maybe not, but at least she didn't kill her chances.  Perhaps the point of staying until the end is to make a point about running next time.  This is probably the best explanation for John Kasich right now.  I have puzzled over Kasich before, comparing his campaign to the South Park underpants gnomes, but the simplest explanation for why Kasich is still in the race is to continue demonstrating to the establishment Republicans that he should be their pick in 2020 after Trump loses to Hillary in a comically lop-sided general election.  This explanation doesn't work for Bernie.  He won't challenge the incumbent Hillary in 2020.  Frankly, he'll probably die before 2024.  It also doesn't make sense for Cruz.

3)  Egotism/self-delusion

You don't seriously run for president unless you believe that you should be the most powerful person in the world.  That takes some serious ego.  But, there's a difference between a regular, old black hole, and the super-massive ones at the centers of galaxies.  Some candidates have egos of that latter size.  With that kind of ego, it is easy to delude one's self.  Cruz certainly has that kind of ego.  Also, he is fighting hard to make sure that the actual delegates themselves are Cruz loyalists.  That way, even if the delegates are bound to vote for Trump on the first ballot, once freed by nobody getting a majority on the first ballot, they'll switch to Cruz on the second ballot.  He really thinks he's going to win this, or at least that he has a shot.

Bernie probably started as a protest candidate, but he has deluded himself into thinking he had a viable campaign.  That's why so many of his surrogates are now urging super-delegates to ignore Hillary's electoral lead and pull a reverse-1968.  That would be pretty weird.  In 1968, the conventioneers screwed the liberal protest candidate out of the nomination because the primaries didn't really matter.  Bernie wants the super-delegates to screw the establishment candidate out of the nomination in favor of a protest candidate who couldn't actually beat her.  That ain't gonna happen.  But, Bernie may have deluded himself otherwise.

4)  Digging in

It is hard to admit losing.  When everyone tells you that it's over and you should get out of the race, the contrarian impulse is to stick it out to the end.  Like the last soldier to carry on the fight after the leaders have surrendered, losing candidates may just have dug in so much that they can't extricate themselves.  Bernie, maybe?  Cruz?

What's going on, though, is that this is over.  Short of an incriminating recording of Bill and The Donald scheming together, this is a Hillary/Trump race.  The fact that the candidates aren't admitting it doesn't mean that we should play along with the nonsense.

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