Why you should care
Because you don’t need to wait for Iowa to separate the wheat from the chaff.
A year from now, it’ll all be over: Bernie Sanders will be president, Donald Trump his loyal wingman VP and … okay, we’re kidding. No one knows who will become ’Merica’s 45th head of state, but this much we can say: Half of the Democratic field has exited the race since the party’s first debate, while that fulsome Republican side has suffered some surprising casualties. Remember Scott Walker and Rick Perry? And those are only the candidates who are officially out! There are also the has-beens and never-will-bes of the campaign, and to us, they occupy a whole special category: They’re members of OZY’s “Fallen” tribe.
Ripe pickings here. Even before the 17th major Republican hopeful, Jim Gilmore, announced his candidacy in August, it was clear that America was looking at a record-size slate of candidates, one so big on the GOP side that it has so far proven impossible, or so the cable networks claim, to fit them all onto a single stage. Why so many? For some, running may be an opportunity to build their personal brand (and wealth) Trump-style — note that Ben Carson is already on a book-selling tour alongside his campaign. For others, like Rick “Oops” Perry and Rick Santorum, the GOP runner-up in 2012, the race may represent a shot at redemption, or perhaps just one last hour in the political spotlight, even if it is at the kids’ table. Then there are the crusaders, like Larry Lessig and Rand Paul, and, of course, the people whose ambitions have boiled over uncontrollably all their lives.
But whatever their motivation, all of the candidates have benefited from the absence of some of the obstacles present in other election cycles. There’s no incumbent president running, and, on the Republican side, no clear front-runner and some major party divides on policy. The rise of Super PACs and the ability to raise money from a few mega donors also makes it easier to get in the game — and to stay in it, just waiting to catch lightning in a bottle, or in a televised debate. But the more candidates who get in, the more who must fall … eventually.
Which is exactly where we come in; just in case you missed it, we’ve been tracking presidential candidates this fall and picking off the weakest, Hunger Games–style, just as Late Show host Stephen Colbert later started doing with his “Hungry for Power Games.” One beat us to the punch, most we predicted and some just haven’t given up yet. With both a GOP and Democratic debate planned for this week, here are the ones you shouldn’t look for:
It wasn’t supposed to go down this way, was it, Governor Walker? Or perhaps it was. “This is God’s plan for me,” you emailed supporters when you announced your candidacy just two months ago. “And I am humbled to be a candidate for President of the United States.” Apparently, it was the Almighty’s turn to be humbled … by your lackluster campaign. Somewhere along the way, the Scott Walker for President plan, if indeed the product of providence, started to rank up there with the duckbill platypus as one of God’s more head-scratching creations. And so you, a college dropout running for president, decided to heed the call again to lead — this time by getting out of the way, dropping out of the race as if it were a degree-conferring university.
We know, Senator Webb: You didn’t get adequate time in the first Democratic debate to introduce yourself to the American people before it was time to say goodbye to them. But your campaign was waged like one of the SEAL missions you might have ordered as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy: a stealth operation butted in secrecy in which no one aside of a few key operatives had any real clue as to its mission. And you may have been the only combat veteran in the presidential field, but when it came to the rigors of the campaign battlefield, it was not at all clear that you were combat ready.
It should have been such a good time to be you, Rick Perry. You recently wrapped up a stint as the longest-serving governor in Texas history — 14 years guiding the second-largest state in the Union, with an enviable record for job creation and economic growth. You’d learned your lessons from your last, less-than-stellar run for the top job. You had smart new glasses and studied up on your three-part answers to avoid an “oops” reprise. But good hair or not, there was no disguising a corpse. And in politics, as in Weekend at Bernie’s II, there’s only so long you can dress up a dead man before the American public revolts at the cornball stench of it all. But cheer up. There are only three inevitable things in this life. The weather. Taxes. And … what’s the third one?
Fix democracy first. That was your pitch, Professor Lessig. And you had a bold plan to kick-start democracy and purge the land of corruption and political inequality. But first you had to crack 1 percent in the polls and get into a debate. Mission not accomplished. We get it — sometimes you have to win the game to change the rules. But this is America and, as the Summer of Trump proves yet again, we love the game and our fantasy politicians (even if we despise the real ones). And, let’s face it, most of us don’t know the rules, nor do we want to start learning them now. Democracy must, in the end, fix itself, and that’s not to discount your motives or your ideas. But it is to discount you.
It takes courage to do the unpopular thing. But you already knew that, didn’t you, Governor Chafee? Back in 2002, when all of your Republican colleagues in the Senate were beating the drum to war, you alone refused the tomahawk and the face paint. But this time, you’re not just doing the odd, unpopular thing, like endorsing the metric system — you’ve somehow become the odd, unpopular thing, one who has changed his spots from Republican to Independent to Democrat. But what other presidential candidate has graduated from a farrier school in Montana, worked at a racetrack and shod 5,000 horses? It turns out the American voter can be a lot like the American thoroughbred: hardworking and proud but also high-strung, unpredictable, easily spooked. And as any good farrier knows, no matter how expert or likable you are — or whether you stand to their left or to their right — sometimes you’re just going to get kicked.
A “Telling It Like It Is” campaign seemed like a good idea at the start, Governor Christie. Many Americans are hungry for a straight-talking, no-nonsense D.C. outsider as president. And during the Republican debates, you’ve shown again why no politician can commandeer a room with the sheer audacity of his bluntness quite like Chris Christie. Well, almost no one. You see, the bull-in-the-china-shop routine only works if that shop hasn’t already been hit by a Category 5 hurricane of chutzpah. And there’s another guy in the room, and on that stage, one who’s also a New York–area street fighter who “says what he means, and means what he says.” Donald Trump hasn’t just stolen your political act, governor — he’s better at it than you are.
From the days of being hailed as the “GOP’s Obama” and a possible first Indian-American president of the United States, Governor Jindal, you’re now resorting to taking potshots at Donald Trump and printing T-shirts with slogans like “Tanned. Rested. Ready.” What possessed you? That foul devil called ambition, it would appear. Being possessed is nothing to trifle with, however, and in some ways, it’s lucky that this devil chose you. Most major presidential candidates have never participated in an exorcism. But now it’s about time to dust off that crucifix and cast out another spirit … from you.
This was supposed to be your year, Rick Santorum. From Ronald Reagan to George H.W. Bush to John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republicans have a reliable history of making last election’s top bridesmaid this season’s bride. And after winning 11 states, including Iowa, in 2012, that’s you in 2016. Somehow, Sleeveless Rick, America’s favorite sweater-vested culture warrior, has been outfought and outpreached, even on once friendly Iowa soil. And despite its reputation as a political field of dreams, it’s not heaven, senator; it’s Iowa.
You’re a rare bird, Governor Pataki. And the American people have been known to go for those. But in a world where the current president is a Hawaiian-born son of a Kenyan with the middle name Hussein, being the centrist grandson of a Hungarian just ain’t what it used to be. Nor is being a six-foot-five, three-term former governor of New York, especially when you’ve been out of office since 2006. In hindsight, perhaps you should have struck while the iron was hotter, in 2008, when 9/11 burned more deeply in the public imagination. “People don’t remember who I am,” you told Newsmax earlier this year, “but we can remind them of that.” Remind away, but you can’t reverse time or amplify your potential (“Peekskill” ain’t just your hometown).
Governor Gilmore, we hardly knew ye. And if the polls are right, most of us never will. You were the last of the Republican field to declare your candidacy, just a week before you valiantly took your seat at the Fox News “kids’ table” debate — though you made sure everyone knew you weren’t happy about it. “Fox and the RNC have set up a system that rewards people who are the most theatrical on television,” you told Politico’s Playbook. “That’s just not Jim Gilmore. I’m not willing to say things on TV to get that kind of exposure.” And you’ve stood by that principle. From your measured 10-minute announcement video to your one unheralded debate performance, Jim Gilmore has not been willing to say things to get that kind of exposure on TV.
A moment of silence then for this election’s Fallen. May the odds be ever in your favor, even when the voters aren’t.