Hopeless Presidential Candidates Are Good for Democracy
On Monday, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott announced that he was running for president. Scott is a longtime senator from South Carolina and one of the only African American senators currently serving. He has years of governmental experience, some sober policy ideas, and the ability to unite moderates and conservatives throughout the party.
Scott also has zero chance of winning much of anything at the moment. In the last national polls, he has barely been able to exceed one percent. Scott has failed to show an alternative that a plurality of Republican voters would be interested in. The vast majority of these voters want former president Donald Trump, the man they staked their political fortunes to seven years ago. A diminishing minority who are completely disgusted with Trump have settled on a Trump-lite candidate, Ron DeSantis, but there is no evidence that even this much-hyped candidacy has any chance of being sustainable.
Scott’s candidacy begs the question of why senators and representatives run hopeless campaigns. Several commentators have speculated that the runs are simply a grift. They are about fundraising dollars and free advertising on television that businessmen, senators, and governors can all use to further their own brands and careers. According to this theory, Tim Scott is running not because he thinks he will become president but because he believes that a run will help improve book sales and smooth the way for his post-Senate career.
But these doomed candidacies are actually helpful for the political process. In the United States, there should not be a coronation at any point. New ideas and solutions to problems should be discussed on a national stage. The countless forums and debates broadcast on CNN and elsewhere help jumpstart the marketplace of ideas. Candidates like Tim Scott or Nikki Haley could help show where the Republican Party may go after Trump and the thought process of Republican primary voters. If Trump does decide or is forced to step away, the hopeless candidacies of Tim Scott and Nikki Haley suddenly look much more viable, especially after Ron DeSantis’s numerous political missteps in the past few months.
Even the doomed presidential runs on the left, most notably that of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., are instructive. Democrats, in their trust of science and measures to curb COVID-19, have mostly forgotten their party’s legacy of anti-vax ideas and rhetoric. For decades, there were arguably more anti-vaxxers on the left than the right. Vaccines were unnatural and created by for-profit corporations. Skepticism over vaccines was often paired with belief in homeopathic medicine and a distrust of various prescription drugs. Before his exile from party circles, RFK Jr. was a frequent guest on numerous liberal media programs and a former host of the Air America radio show Ring of Fire.
The candidacy of RFK Jr. in particular will help Democrats reckon with this anti-vax past. It will show how the party has moved to the center on a variety of issues in an attempt to portray a united front against Trump. It will also show how the party’s embrace of leftist activism is conditional. The outright shunning and mockery of RFK Jr. will show how the party has both embraced science and moved past what used to be a vital activist wing of the party.
No presidential candidate should run unopposed in their party’s primaries. Competition is healthy and helps keep candidates prepared for the myriad of issues they may face in the general election. It is true that Nikki Haley or RFK Jr. may end up embarrassing their party’s nominees. But the damage they cause will be minimal compared to the potential vulnerabilities the other party may similarly exploit during the fall election season.
Not sure how Nikki Haley and RFK Jr are in the same ballpark…
The most obvious example to make your point would have been Tulsi Gabbard exposing Kamala Harris for the fraud that she is.Report
The problem with epistemic defences of democracy is that they assume that people are epistemically rational actors. That when they encounter different views, think about them and talk about them, the better views win out. However, this is not the case. On average, when the public deliberates, they will tend to choose more intuitive and simple explanations over more complex ones. This would be fine if the truth regarding the issues that face us were simple. However, it often is not. That’s why conspiracy theories are so prevalent.Report
Love this comment. I suggest that when people are exposed to an actual clash of ideas, they tend to cherry-pick out facts and arguments supporting the point of view they held entering the debate for affirmation, and cherry-pick out facts and arguments supporting different points of view for rejection. During the debate, their attitudes harden and polarize, and they become angry and frustrated with the person with a different point of view. Most people leave a debate feeling stronger and more energetic about the opinions they held before the debate; the debate tells them that they were right all along. This is true for both sides of the debate and the actual merits of the issue are, most of the time, irrelevant.Report