As the field of candidates begins to narrow in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, it’s worth sparing a thought for those forced to withdraw. Far from spending the next four years in the White House, many of them will soon be consigned to the undignified rank of tough-pub-quiz-question, showing the same levels of name-recognition that garnered them such low poll ratings in the first place. For every Jeb Bush that will probably continue to have a role in public life, there’ll be many Bobby Jindals who it’s difficult to believe ever thought he was presidential. But lest we forget those who sacrificed their careers at the altar of vanity and power, here are five past candidates who, for better or worse, stayed in the public eye after their presidential ambitions were squashed.
2012 – Herman Cain
A former businessman with no political experience. A man whose anti-Mulsim remarks were met with disdain. A candidate enjoying a surprise early poll lead. Remind you of anyone? While Herman Cain’s greatest contribution to politics may end up being his use as a comparison to Trump (at least until that all stopped being quite so funny) his legacy to comedy was much greater. The former Godfather’s Pizza boss briefly ran in 2000, but it was in 2012 that Cain made his mark. His central economic policy was to rip us the US tax code and replace it with his snappily titled 9-9-9 tax policy; a flat 9% rate of tax for personal income, business transactions and federal sales. The clever sound-bite failed to stack up as a workable policy and was widely ridiculed. A bizarre ad in which his campaign chief blew smoke into the camera before Cain grinned slowly while a power ballad played in the background did nothing to alleviate this and led to merciless and endless parody.
2004/2008 – John Edwards
As an inexperienced first-term senator Edwards never looked likely to win the 2004 Democratic nomination, but showed enough promise that he was marked out for big things in the future. John Kerry even saw fit to offer him the Vice Presidential nomination that year. In 2008, Edwards’ campaign was hard-fought but ultimately drowned out by the epic clash which emerged between Senators Obama and Clinton. Edwards’ failure to secure the nomination wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to him that year, as his less-than-honourable personal life caught up with him. He initially denied allegations that he had had an affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter and fathered a child with her. Whilst he later admitted the affair, he continued to disown the child until 2010, something unlikely to earn him any “world’s greatest dad” mugs in Father’s Days to come. One former aide later accused Edwards of convincing him to admit paternity in order to cover up the deception. All of which was made worse by the fact that it happened at a time when his wife, herself a respected attorney, author and activist was dying of cancer. She lived just long enough to see him finally admit paternity of his lovechild and to write a scathing book about their relationship. Now firmly entrenched as American politics’ bastard-in-chief, John Edwards was indicted on charges of misusing up to $1 million of campaign funds to cover up his affair. He was acquitted of one charge and five others were dismissed due to mistrial. He’s now managed to slide his way back into the courtroom by returning to practising law.
2000 – John McCain
Before, anyone gets smug and says “but surely McCain won the Republican nomination?” yes, that is true of 2008 John McCain but a much younger, sexier John McCain had a first crack of the whip eight years previously.
A Vietnam veteran who spent time as a POW in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison, McCain was elected Congressman for Arizona in 1983, upgrading to Senator four years later. By 2000 he was a well-respected if sometimes unpredictable member of the GOP, known to reach across the aisle on matters of principle. He teamed up with fellow Senator and veteran John Kerry to declare that there were no secret prisoners still being held in Vietnam, something many veterans still believed and for which some never forgave him. On paper his experience and backstory was in obvious contrast to Presidential scion George W. Bush, whose rowdy and alcoholic youth and perceived inability to speak in coherent English were potential stumbling blocks to his nomination. As his challenge to the establishment-backed Bush grew stronger, McCain became the victim of an anonymous poison-pen campaign. As the New York Times later recalled:
“Literature began to pepper the windshields of cars at political events suggesting that Mr. McCain had committed treason while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, that he was mentally unstable after years in a P.O.W. camp, that he was the homosexual candidate and that Mrs. McCain, who had admitted to abusing prescription drugs years earlier, was an addict.”
McCain lost the South Carolina primary soon afterwards and his candidacy never recovered. In 2004, he was often mentioned as a Vice Presidential candidate for Democrat John Kerry as part of a unity ticket, but nothing ever came of it. By 2008 McCain’s time had finally come and he won the Republican nomination. With a deeply unpopular incumbent Republican President, McCain had an uphill battle on his hands, one only made harder by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. In contrast to the rancour during this year’s Primary season, during which Donald Trump offered the supreme diss of “I like people who weren’t captured,” McCain at least attempted to make the vote about policy, valiantly attempting to talk down a supporter who railed against Obama as an Arab.
Less edifying was his channelling of the Beach Boys to advocate bombing Iran.
Since his defeat he’s returned to the Senate when he’s become chair of the Armed Services Committee.
1992 – Ralph Nader
The only person other than John McCain to eventually make it onto the ballot for the Presidential election, Nader first challenged as a write-in Democrat in 1992. A strong left-winger and environmentalist, he was the Green Party candidate in 1996 and again in 2000, when he may have inadvertently been very influential in the race. The closeness of George W. Bush’s win over Al Gore led some to suggest that Nader’s siphoning (however small) of the liberal vote cost Gore the election. Somewhat ironically of course, Al Gore would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent global warming. For his part Nader refused to give up his presidential ambitions (or perhaps just hoped to influence the debate) by running again as an independent in 2004 and 2008.
1988/1992 – David Duke
A candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and the Republicans in 1992, David Duke is the sort of name you don’t want (but I now have) in your search history. A white supremacist, vocal anti-Semite and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke was notorious as far back as his student days for parading around Louisiana State University campus in a Nazi uniform. Not content with the number of K’s in his organisation he founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan or KKKK. His unashamed far-right views notwithstanding, he won a seat in the Louisiana state house in 1989, though failed as an effective lawmaker during his single term, due to his inability to get to grips with procedure. Whilst his own bids for President never looked like taking off, he has kept busy in politics, meeting with former BNP leader Nick Griffin and recently endorsing Donald Trump. Trump’s inability to immediately disavow Duke may be one reason his electoral success has shown signs of slowing in recent weeks.
In the 1990s David Duke raised funds from supporters, claiming he was in dire financial straits. This turned out not to be the case, the money mainly being spent on gambling, and Duke was convicted of fraud. More recently, he was detained and eventually asked to leave the Czech Republic because of his record of Holocaust denial, whilst he was deported from Italy in 2013 after it was discovered that Switzerland had issued him with a Schengen-wide travel ban. He received an honorary doctorate from the obscure Ukrainian Interregional Academy of Personnel Management and is now insistent on styling himself Dr. David Duke. Perhaps he just misses being associated with three repeated initials.
So there you have it, every cycle has its own quirks. Who knows, if we survive the coming Trumpocalypse we may one day look back upon Ben Carson’s grain stores or Chris Christie’s huge mistake with fondness.