Why on Earth do so many people run for president?
If you haven't yet announced your own personal run for the Republican presidential nomination, you might want to do it soon, since time's a-wastin'.
This week Rick Santorum is expected to make his official announcement, and the unstoppable juggernaut that is Pakati-mentum will soon be sweeping through the land, as former New York governor George Pataki finally heeds the call of a desperate nation and joins the race. ("Skeptics abound about Pataki's chances," said the New York Post, in a bit of uncharacteristic understatement.) The GOP race is bursting with actual candidates, technically not-yet candidates, probable candidates, and even a couple who seem genuinely undecided about whether to run. Which leads to the question: Why do so many people want to do this?
The obvious answer is ambition. If you decide to run for president, it means you think you should be president, because you're the cleverest, wisest, and most virtuous of all Americans (or some combination thereof). Most people who think that, however, are not just wrong but spectacularly wrong.
And what they're in for couldn't be called fun. It involves incredibly long hours for no pay, begging rich people for money, taking hostile questions from cynical reporters, trudging through the snow in New Hampshire and Iowa to try to convince a bunch of poorly informed, ornery voters to look kindly upon them, and repeating the same speeches and talking points over and over until their tongues go numb. By the end of it most of them will be the recipients of a humiliating rejection, as the American people look them over and say, "Eh, no thanks."
Nevertheless, I'm sure all the candidates believe that with the right confluence of circumstances, they might be able to pull out in front and ride to the nomination. And that idea isn't completely crazy, any more so than buying a raffle ticket. The 2012 GOP race, for instance, was led at one point or another by five different candidates, including such giants as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum (even if, as is usually the case, the guy who led at the beginning ended up leading, and winning, at the end). Without the hope that the lightning of voter esteem might strike them just at the right time, they probably couldn't go on.
And despite all the unpleasantness, even for those bound to lose, there's plenty of ego gratification to be had in a presidential bid. Imagine that next time you walked into your office, it had been transformed into a campaign on your behalf. There would be posters of your face on the wall. People would be wearing buttons with your name on them. And behind every door and out in the cubicle pit, every person you see would be devoting months of their lives to helping you get a job. It could start to make you feel pretty high on yourself.
Not only that, all those people would spend a good portion of every day telling you and anyone else who will listen how great you are and how you're absolutely going to win, whatever those damn polls say. They'll be telling donors, they'll be telling voters, they'll be telling reporters, and no matter how outlandish it might seem to a neutral observer, they'll believe it, because they have to.
And though you'll be met with plenty of resistance out on the campaign trail, you'll also be hearing from people who walk up to you and tell you that they've admired you for years, and you're exactly what America needs right now. Even George Pataki will hear that from time to time. He's probably already heard it, which is why he thinks that running sounds like a fine idea.
At the end of it, all but one of the 15 or 20 Republicans who will eventually join this race will end up as losers, scorned and mocked and left to slink back from whence they came. A lucky few might land a gig on Fox News giving "analysis," or parlay their run into a radio show or even a cabinet position.
Some, like Santorum or Mike Huckabee today, will tell themselves that if only they could go back and change a thing or two about their last run, then everything would have been different. So they'll try again, spurred on by a voice deep inside that tells them that everything is going to work out, people will see just how special they are, a crowd will hoist them upon their shoulders and carry them to the White House, where they will bring a new dawn of glory and be remembered for all time. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.