With long-shot presidential hopefuls Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson formally announcing their candidacies this week, it is only natural to wonder if they have ulterior motives for their presidential runs.
Of course, the two of them would love to win the presidency, [would they really? It’s a hard-ass job!] but any presidential campaign must have an adequate balance between the aspirational and the practical to avoid becoming delusional. These two clearly have far more of the former than the latter.
According to a recent poll by RealClearPolitics, out of a crowded Republican field of 14 candidates, Carson was polling at a distant eighth place with only 5 percent, while Fiorina finished last with only 1 percent.
It will be incredibly difficult if not impossible for either candidate to turn around these polling numbers and become a significant player in the GOP presidential race. So why bother running for president if you are Carson or Fiorina?
In theory, each candidate could expand the GOP’s voter base or soften the party’s radical agenda by appealing to an untapped voter base. Both candidates appear to check this box, but in reality neither does.
Fiorina has thus far presented herself as the anti-Hillary Clinton whose appeal to female voters and whose inspirational professional narrative as a former secretary who rose to become the CEO of Hewlett-Packard should make her a legitimate challenger to the Democratic frontrunner. Fiorina’s presidential announcement video even targeted Clinton so directly that it featured a clip of Clinton’s announcement video with Fiorina turning it off prior to stating her reason for running for president.
Yet in her relatively short political career, her appeal to female voters has been limited. In her 2010 California Senate bid, she lost to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer by 10 points, and, according to a CBS News exit poll, nearly three out of five women supported Boxer. Additionally, Boxer’s attack ads saying that Fiorina laid off 30,000 Hewlett-Packard employees and moved jobs overseas damaged her tremendously.
Likewise, Carson’s possible appeal to African Americans is equally misleading. Prior to entering public life Carson was a leading neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins and a best selling author with Gifted Hands, which presented his Horatio Alger story to a predominantly African-American and Christian audience. Yet politically he has received national attention only since his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast when he criticized the Affordable Care Act while standing only a couple of feet away from President Obama.
At that moment, he presented himself as the anti-Obama to a Republican base yearning for a candidate who could stand up to the president while also appealing to the African-American voter base that President Obama has won by gargantuan margins in both of his presidential campaigns.
However, since he has been propelled into the national spotlight Carson has become more known for his outrageous comments than for his appeal to minority voters. There’s his famous Obamacare-worst-thing-since-slavery comment, most notably. Then there was the way he explained on CNN that homosexuality is a choice because many “people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”
So yeah, while Carson wants us to ask trivial questions about the proclivities of prisoners, we instead should ask these candidates about the absurdity of their presidential campaigns. These two would need a miracle of depressingly epic proportions to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave in a little over a year’s time, and this should be clear to everyone including the candidates.
Assuming they know this, we inevitably have to wonder if they have an additional incentive for running besides becoming the 45th President of the United States.
Could running for president merely serve as a tool for professional advancement for these two candidates and possibly others? Would it be fair to say that for certain candidates that running for president has become a platform for individual business development instead of public service?
For example, in 2012, many of the candidates in the Republican field were promoting their books while they campaigned, with Herman Cain being the most egregious offender. At the time, many observers asserted that his ultimate goal was to land a TV show like how current GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee did after his failed 2008 presidential bid.
In response to this accusation Cain said, “If you know Herman Cain, nothing is further from the truth. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to get a copy of my new book, This Is Herman Cain, if you can find one, because they are selling like hotcakes.”
Cain road this wave of popularity into becoming a surprisingly influential candidate in 2012 until his inexperience, his ignorance on foreign policy (specifically Libya and the Arab Spring), and allegations of sexual harrassment begat his downfall. But he did land his own nationally syndicated talk show in 2013 (he had a show before the campaign, but not the national syndication).
So do Fiorina and Carson aspire to “Rock You Like Herman Cain”?
Should we chalk it up as merely a coincidence that Fiorina’s latest book, Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey went on sale the day after she announced her candidacy? Surely, the book won’t propel her to the White House, but her candidacy should increase book sales.
Likewise Carson has recently retired from his position at Johns Hopkins, so after his campaign is done, he’ll be free to hang out and shill his political ideas and probably write a book about his triumphant, yet failed presidential bid.
Carson and Fiorina are not campaigning to earn our votes. They’ll never make it that far, and we all know this. They are campaigning to broaden their name recognition and to position themselves as the anti-Hillary and the anti-Obama. Those are lucrative careers that can last decades, and the next handful of months is their opportunity to convince influential Republicans—Roger Ailes, we’re talking about you—that they can fill this vital punditry void for years to come.
Carson and Fiorina aspire to be glorious failures, and there should be no glory or reward in this pursuit.