Why Would Any Sane Person Run For President?

Yea you get to live in a nice house for a few years if you win, but why would any normal human being put themselves through a campaign for President?

Paul Waldman describes what it’s like to run for President:

Running for any office, particularly president, requires putting part of your natural humanity aside. On the trail, you’re not allowed to have a range of emotions, or good days and bad days. You can’t be surly, or impatient, or bummed out, as all of us are every now and then. If Newt had reacted to this guy [Waldman is referring to this exchange between Gingrich and a Iowa voter] in a way that many non-politicians would in similar circumstances — for instance, by saying, “Thanks for the tip, jackass” — it would have been totally understandable. It would have also violated the norms of how candidates are supposed to act and brought a storm of discussion in the news about whether he has the temperament to be president.

The ability to sustain a particular kind of upbeat mood all the time on the trail can be a function of sheer will, or it can be a function of monomania. Either way, the trail reveals whether the candidates have it. A presidential campaign is a brutal slog. Try to imagine that for the next year and a half, you almost never got a day off (and that means you work weekends, too), you had to meet thousands of people and give hundreds of speeches, and everywhere you went, even when you were just talking to one or two people on a street corner, someone was videotaping you, with your every word being recorded. Also, people felt perfectly free to come up to you and tell you what a jerk they think you are. And you had to smile and act like you like it.

It didn’t always used to be this way, of course. Up through the 19th Century, Presidential candidates rarely campaigned at all (William McKinley famously ran his 1896 campaign from the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio) and instead relied on surrogates to do that for them. For the most part, it was considered unseemly for someone to actively tour the country asking people to vote for them. That all changed in the early years of the 20th Century, and changed forever with the advent of radio, television, and far easier intercontinental travel.

Today, if you want to run for President you essentially have to accept the fact that your life is officially on hold for a year and a half, or longer if you happen to be “lucky enough” to win. Want to take a weekend off? Too bad, there’s fundraising to do. Fancy the idea of calling it quits at 3 and heading to the local sports bar for a few beers? Are you kidding, there are babies to kissed. Want to tell that idiot standing in front of you telling you off to go to hell? Better not do that, because C-Span is watching. Considering that many of these people running could make more money in the private sector, and have a much less grueling, and less public, schedule, one wonders why they do it.


FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dodd says:

    I don’t trust anyone who wants any elective office higher than about local city council badly enough to do what must be done to get it.

  2. John Peabody says:

    Isn’t that the point? The truly greatest, smartest people gave up the politician career track years ago. Upcoming gifted people avoid politics. We get what’s leftover: good, talented, well-meaning folks, but, make no mistake, they are far from the cream of the crop. We just have to play the game the best we can.

  3. ken says:

    Why the concern over how hard someone has to work to be president?

    Throughout human history man had to work from dawn to dark without taking a day off for most of the year.

    Even today in this country we have millions of people who work as hard as the president campaigns. They work two or three jobs without the glitz and glamor that goes with fancy hotels, private jets, limos, and hordes of folks hanging onto every word spoken.

    I really don’t understand this concern about how hard it is to get elected president.

  4. Southern Hoosier says:

    At the cost of almost a billion dollars every four years, a “normal” person could live quite comfortably on that.

  5. Trumwill says:

    Ken, the difference is that the people we’re talking about – people with a remotely realistic shot at the presidency – are people that have the option not to take on that kind of workload. So it’s an entirely different selection process: work hard or die versus work less hard and make lots more money.

  6. ponce says:

    I just read George W. has made $15 million is speaking fees since leaving office.

  7. Spiff says:

    ..anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. -Douglas Adams

  8. Southern Hoosier says:

    Former president Bill Clinton stepped up the pace of his paid speaking engagements in 2009, bringing his total haul from these speeches to $65 million since leaving office in 2001.

    That is still far short of what it cost to be elected pres.

  9. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:


    You post title begs the question–what makes you think any sane (or wise as far as that goes) people are even running? I’ve given up even believing that the people running for office are even GOOD people. Office seekers are people driven by ego and the desire to tell others what to do and how to live. I don’t think any of them are particularly malicious in there behavior and their goals but they seem, on both sides of the spectrum, centered in objectivist sentiment–maybe even a little sociopathic.

    On the other hand, judging by the comments many of your posts attract, they seem to be a good match to the voters. Hmmm…maybe von Clauswitz was right–nations do get the government the people deserve.

  10. Pete says:

    I’m with Dodd. Human nature is flawed. I was asked recently to apply for a position on the Board of Governors of one of the elite state university systems in the country. I was truly interested as I care deeply about our higher education system. Once I observed the process required to be elected and the egotism displayed by so many candidates simply to add this position to their resume, I declined the invitation. Politics is a personally intrusive, hypocritical, devious, dishonest circus filled with too many flawed human beings.

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    Dodd, you’ve got the right idea, but the scope is too limited. Anyone who desires power, whether public or private, should never be trusted with it.

    This applies to people who want to be politicians or those who want to be billionaires. In the end they want to control others.

  12. Dodd says:

    “An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens…. There has never been a moment of my life in which I should have relinquished for it the enjoyments of my family, my farm, my friends & books.” – Thomas Jefferson

  13. I think it is completely natural for some ambitious people to want to be President. Some which are surely not insane.