Why a Record Number of Republicans Are Running in 2016
Matthew Dickinson takes a stab at explaining "Why So Many Republicans Are Running in 2016."
Matthew Dickinson takes a stab at explaining “Why So Many Republicans Are Running in 2016.” Noting that we’re likely to have sixteen major contenders for the nomination this year, he notes that the incentives have changed substantially over time.
[D]uring campaigns in the modern era in which no Republican incumbent president is running for re-election, the Republican field averages a shade over 9 candidates. Note, however, that the size of the Republican candidate pool has grown deeper across four decades; there were only 7 candidates in 1980, 6 in 1988 and 10 in 1996. In the three most recent open-seat nominating contests, however, Republicans have averaged 11 candidates, including the dozen-and-counting that are running during the 2016 cycle.
[N]ot every presidential candidate is necessarily in it to win it. Although all profess their fervent belief that they should be the party standard bearer, some are likely motivated to take advantage of the highly visible platform a national campaign can provide to push a particular set of policies or to promote themselves. For example, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky used the visibility of his presidential campaign to help gain publicity for his effort in the Senate to scuttle an extension of the USA Patriot Act — legislation he had opposed since entering the Senate. Not coincidentally, his very public opposition during Senate debate likely also boosted his presidential campaign profile. Similarly, the socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has been pushing his populist economic agenda for years, but by running for president as a Democrat he has gained a more prominent platform from which to make his views known.
Changes to campaign funding combined with the growing prominence of social media as a fund-raising tool have made it easier for more of these ideologically-extreme candidates to raise money and remain viable candidates, thus accentuating the nominating process’ utility as a bully pulpit. The recent Citizens United and Speechnow court cases both contributed to a rise in outside spending on campaigns by more ideologically extreme groups and deep-pocketed individuals with single-issue concerns.
Gingrich, for instance, remained in the Republican race in 2012 long after it became clear he could not win the nomination, thanks to periodic infusion of funds by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson. The traditional parties, meanwhile, have lost some of their gatekeeping abilities due in part to the ban on “soft money” imposed by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. That was money ostensibly raised by parties for so-called party-building activities, but which was in fact used to bolster the campaign of the party favorite whose typically more centrist views were deemed by party regulars to make them more competitive in the general election.
The combination of campaign finance reform and technological developments has lowered the entry barriers for candidates with less moderate political views and allowed them to remain viable for a longer period. Even though their prospects of winning their party’s nomination may not have increased, these long-shot candidates nonetheless have a greater incentive to enter the race.
Finally, in an era that has witnessed the proliferation of cable news shows and more ideologically-oriented media outlets, we should not underestimate the post-race benefits that potentially accrue to losing presidential candidates. Mike Huckabee parlayed his failed 2008 presidential bid into hosting his own political talk show on the Fox News cable network. Eight years later, Huckabee is once again running for president, and while he is unlikely to win, he will probably bolster his cache as a television talking head.
Similarly, thanks in no small part to his failed 2012 bid, Gingrich is now a permanent fixture as a political pundit on network and cable news shows. Perhaps with their examples in mind, real estate mogul Donald Trump has just announced that he is also running for the Republican nomination — a career move that, if nothing else, will no doubt help boost ratings for his “Celebrity Apprentice” television show and other endeavors almost regardless of how well he does.
For all these reasons, running for president today has become a more attractive proposition for candidates who in an earlier period might have decided it was not worth incurring the expense in time and resources associated with a long-shot national campaign. This proliferation of candidates is not necessarily an unwelcome development — indeed, it can be viewed as a sign of a healthy, vibrant electoral process, one in which voters have more and, perhaps, better choices.
The bottom line is that, for those shameless enough to exploit the system, there’s really no reason not to run. While many of the announced or expected candidates seemingly have no shot at winning the nomination, only Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump are demonstrably unqualified for the office in terms of résumé. And even aside from cashing in on the talk show circuit, the mere act of running for president generally boosts the public profile of politicians, raising their national stature and ability to do their job more effectively.
Given all this, I’m rather surprised that Hillary Clinton isn’t attracting more challengers. To be sure, she’s a clear frontrunner in a way that no one in the GOP field is. But there’s little downside for a Democratic senator or governor in getting into the debates and becoming thought of as a presidential contender.