Please Stop Running for President

The stage for CNN’s Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn in 2016 ( Image )

The stage for CNN’s Democratic presidential debate in Brooklyn in 2016 (Image)

 

If you consider yourself an engaged citizen, ask yourself: what do Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, Pete Buttigieg, and Andrew Yang have in common? Even a voracious consumer of news might say that they haven’t even heard half of these names. And that’s precisely the problem. These are the second and third-tier candidates who have announced bids for the 2020 Democratic primary — and there are surely more coming. Most recently, Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, has indicated interest in running as an independent. In an ideal world, all of these people running for president in 2020 would be ambitious, politically active citizens who actually think they could win the presidency, putting their hat into the ring to perform their civic duty and serve in the highest office in the land. However, many presidential candidates in modern politics run not because they think they can lead the country, but instead for the perks that come with the journey there: notoriety, book and television deals, and, if they’re lucky, a cabinet or vice-presidential nod. With all this press, and over a year away no less, why wouldn’t a no-name politician jump into the race? Despite what seems like the innocuous stunt of mindlessly running for president, it poses one glaring problem that substantively harms our nation. When it comes time to head to the polls, the circus of names and factions that the American election cycle has become makes choices difficult for voters, takes valuable time away from genuine candidates, and paves the way perfectly for the victory of destructive demagogues. Seem a little extreme? It’s actually happening right before your eyes.

Making an informed decision is difficult. It requires constant attention to the news and hard research. Still, most voters can handle these tasks if there are five or six candidates who are devoted to spreading their ideas. When a critical mass is breached — let’s say 10 candidates, where four or five are genuine — this becomes exponentially more difficult. When so many candidates are putting out platforms, making speeches, and trying to get out their message, even if just feigning seriousness, it gets more difficult for voters to discern between their choices. No better was this illustrated than in the 2016 Republican primary, where 17 candidates crowded into a limited field. Voters were not familiar with every candidate, and with the plethora of politicians, no one could really discern who stood for what. If that primary had excluded candidates like Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, and the others who had little to no chance of winning the Presidency, it may have given voters a better chance to discern what real contenders like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich really stood for. Unfortunately, it appears this problem will permeate into the 2020 Democratic primary as they commit the same folly of the 2016 GOP, harming the voter in the process.

But why, even though these people toil in relative quiet this early in the race, can their presence still be so destructive? To gain the notoriety that every second and third tier candidate craves, they are incentivized to make as much noise as possible. The best way to do so is through grandstanding and adopting outlandish ideological positions meant to catch the media's attention. In doing so, low-level candidates force serious contenders to react to their statements, taking time away from measured discourse between politicos who could actually end up leading our nation. Combine the reduced screen time each candidate enjoys at debates or in the news cycle, with the tennis-like back and forth of “hot takes” and responses thereto, and the oversaturation leads to more bickering than discussion. In short, when time has to be given in to Julian Castro and Pete Buttigieg during a debate — despite their relative obscurity in the grand scheme of the Democratic Party — there is less time to hear from Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

The only candidate who wins in these fields crowded by no-names is the demagogue. Demagogues are uniquely skilled at standing out in a saturated field because they are willing to make extraordinary promises in order to win over votes. They can develop a niche base, one that is also fiercely loyal, and ride it all the way through the parted seas of a split vote. They thrive in environments where the establishment is unable to coalesce around a candidate, and the requisite for success is simply being louder and more obscene. However, these demagogues, such as our current president, feed on fear and false promises (like a border wall), making them exceptionally poor at governing when they reach office. Ultimately, if those candidates mentioned at the beginning of this article claim to be running out of civic duty and truly want to help their country, they should do the noble thing and stop running for president.