Never mind that Jim Gilmore isn’t registering in the polls. He has raised only $106,000, doesn’t hold things like “campaign events,” has a website that appears to have been designed by an eighth grader, hasn’t been invited to any television debates, has no discernible strategy and is a walking punchline among other candidates.
Such inconveniences are just minor speed bumps in the former Virginia governor’s quest to make his voice heard in the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Ditto for former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who together have raised just $6.3 million and pulled in a combined 4.5 percent in the polls, according to RealClearPolitics. Despite these dismal numbers and insurmountable odds, they continue to mount zealous, seemingly irrational bids for the presidency. (Update: Gov. Pataki ended his presidential bid on Tuesday night, Dec. 29, saying he is “confident we can elect the right person.”)
With the Republican primary emerging as a likely three-horse race between businessman Donald Trump and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, the question begging to be asked is why are all of the bottom trollers still hanging around? After all, being relegated to the undercard debates on TV can hardly be considered flattering publicity.
It’s easy to think of some motivations that might keep them running: personal conviction, overinflated egos, ambitions of a cabinet post or vice presidential nomination. There’s always potential television shows and the chance to add a few extra zeros to their future private-sector paychecks. Being a presidential loser can provide a handy boost to both one’s personal and professional ambitions.
To these also-rans, a tight calculus that involves maximizing the amount of public exposure and grandstanding offered by a presidential race while minimizing the chances for potential embarrassment is employed to determine just how long it’s worth sticking around.
“You’re running for president, you’re getting national attention, you’re still being included on all the lists. It can be good for you careerwise,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “It probably can’t hurt your future book sales. Maybe you can get a show on Fox News or something.”
For example, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina used his presidential bid as a mouthpiece for his personal brand and his neoconservative foreign policy philosophy. He held on long enough to beef up his resume and dropped out just in time to avoid an embarrassing loss in his home state. Plus, he was pretty funny in the undercard debates, so look for him to show up with a Saturday morning talk show soon.
Some of the candidates are still holding out faint hope that they can recreate Santorum’s surprise victory in the 2012 Iowa caucus or put forth a strong showing in New Hampshire that will earn them a second look from the Republican donor class.
“The Rick Santorum example in 2012 creates the view in some that ‘You know, something can happen and I can be in a position to capitalize,’” said Skelley. “What if something happens to Ted Cruz and his support were to collapse unexpectedly?”
Huckabee, who nearly won Iowa in 2008, has said that he will drop out if he doesn’t place in the top three in the state this time around. Santorum, meanwhile, appears to be employing a “Why not run?” justification for staying in the race, even going so far as to gloat about how he is listed as an official enemy of ISIS in the terrorist group’s propaganda.
Pataki, who failed to even make the Republican ballot in Florida and Virginia, among other states, held empty town hall meetings in New Hampshire while harking back to his time as New York governor on Sept. 11, 2001, as his main qualification for fighting radical Islamist terror.
For Kasich and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who peaked in September at 11.8 percent in the polls but has since fallen back to earth, a vice presidential nomination or a cabinet appointment are possible pots of gold at the end of their respective rainbows should a Republican ultimately win the presidency.
Others are staying in the hunt out of pure personal conviction and because the money continues to roll in.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who was a leading candidate just two months ago but has seen his campaign crash and burn of late, has repeatedly stressed that his campaign is less of a personal ambition than a calling. The $20 million he’s raised also buys him some staying power. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also faces an uphill battle to garner a second look, but his unconventional stances and policy prescriptions still add something to the conversation.
And then there is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who just doesn’t appear to have his heart set on being president and is just going through the motions to carry on the family legacy and keep donors happy.
Regardless of their motivation for staying the course, the Republican presidential train has left the station. They don’t know it yet, but that pack of also-rans isn’t even on it.