As a fateful presidential race gradually takes shape, political junkies will feel both bemused and mystified by the persistence of marginal candidates who have no chance whatsoever of caucus or primary victories. In 2012, as in previous years, it ought to be obvious that some of these purported White House aspirants are actually running for profit, not for president.
This point came home to me during a startling 2007 conversation with a friend and colleague who hosts a successful radio talk show. He asked me, in confidence, what I thought about the idea of his declaring his candidacy for president of the United States. Without hesitation, I told him it sounded like a disastrous idea. He’d need to give up his well-established show once he became an official candidate and would never receive serious consideration by pundits and commentators, as he’d never run for office before. Moreover, he’d hate the process of begging friends and strangers for campaign cash, with no realistic prospect of victory against rivals with fatter wallets and bigger names.
My friend laughed and acknowledged that he’d never advance to the White House but said he believed the campaign process could boost his media career. After the publicity surrounding even the feeblest presidential non-juggernaut, he could command larger radio audiences, bigger book advances, higher speaking fees, and the generally enhanced notoriety that attaches to anyone who travels the country running for the world’s most powerful office.
As for the likelihood that journalists and opponents would scour his past to publicize some embarrassing scandal or shortcoming—another of my objections—he argued that even this humiliation would help publicize his name and enhance his reputation, particularly if they found something juicy to dominate a news cycle or two.
In the end, common sense, and a reluctant spouse, prevailed and my pal declined to make the race, though we both recognized, ruefully, that his lively mind and formidable rhetorical skills could have enlivened some of the preternaturally boring 2008 debates. Our conversation also persuaded me that under the right circumstances, a presidential campaign that made no sense politically might earn dollars and cents in career enhancements.