Top five reasons for crowded GOP presidential field

The number of Republicans running for president in 2016 seems to change daily. Some are on the verge of announcing; others have publicly said they’re taking a pass. Most in the political world put the number of serious candidates somewhere between 15 and 19. But why so many?

Is there something different about the 2016 presidential election that is drawing candidates more quickly than the time it takes to deep-fry a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair? I offer five reasons why — not necessarily different from previous years, but especially relevant this time around.

Book sales. How many of these candidates have new books out in 2014 or 2015? Let’s see: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is hyping God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. In the same vein, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came out with Blue Collar Conservatives a year ago. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s latest book, out in January, is American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has a new book with an October release date, American Will: The Forgotten Choices That Changed Our Republic. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is pushing Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will have a new book out at the end of June, A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Miracle of America. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is hoping a presidential campaign will revive sales of Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge. In March, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina offered the latest in a series of books with Rising to the Challenge. Ben Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, published his latest in 2014, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.

How different can these books be? Even many of the titles sound the same.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is trying the e-book route, publishing the first chapter of a new book with some of the emails he received in his early days in office. His problem was that he included personal details about the writers of those emails. That effort seems to have ended, for now. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to rewrite New Jersey law so he can profit from a book deal, too — something that state statute currently bans.

To be sure, politicians in both parties hope to get rich off book sales, and candidates usually come up with something in election years. It’s just that a presidential contest offers unlimited chances to sell, sell, sell, before your book ends up on the electronic equivalent of the remainder table at Amazon. I’m sure Hillary Rodham Clinton wishes that she had sold more copies of Hard Choices. And of course, Barack Obama sold so many copies of Dreams from My Father when he was an Illinois state senator that the Obamas were able to pay off their student loans. The Audacity of Hope was a best-seller, too.

But I can’t recall when so many candidates have offered this many books so early in this cycle of a campaign. This collection of books and authors offers an embarrassment of riches. Or maybe just an embarrassment.

Sheer egotism. This is the biggest driving force for anyone to seek public office. They all talk about “public service,” but it’s really a chance to be in the spotlight. It’s certainly what drives real estate developer and professional blowhard Donald Trump, who has never met a camera he didn’t like. It’s also what may be driving South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose bookings on Sunday morning talk shows seem to have been dropping, and he’s grasping for another chance to be in the public eye.

The veepstakes. Many of the current candidates, including some who already have declared publicly, know that their chances of becoming president are lower than the likelihood of Congress passing immigration reform. I contend that many of these candidates hope that their race, gender, background, ethnicity, geography, or voter base makes them an attractive choice as a running mate.

Let’s say Bush, Walker, or Rubio gets the nomination. Someone like Huckabee in the second spot brings religious conservatives to the table. Graham offers a nod to the neocon base. Someone like Ohio Gov. John Kasich might help in that swing state. Again, nothing new in this situation, but the depth of the field — and thus the number of choices — is greater than ever. And many of the current candidates got into the race hoping for the runner-up slot. New York Rep. Peter King even says publicly he wants to be people’s “second choice.”

The chance to revive social conservatism. No matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on marriage equality, everyone knows the fight is basically over. Yet GOP candidates think they must play the “religious freedom” card at every opportunity to show that base of voters that they’re willing to keep fighting. No matter how ridiculous the arguments about florists and bakers not catering same-sex weddings (when those businesses have no problems serving weddings of unwed parents or multi-divorced brides and grooms), when your candidate says it’s OK for a bakery not to make a “gay wedding cake,” that’s your candidate if that’s your line of bigotry. Otherwise, they’re not giving you much of a reason to vote. Except that they’re not Hillary.

Last desperate bid for relevance. Some politicians have careers that are tanking faster than ratings at MSNBC. Approval ratings for Christie and Jindal aren’t just underwater — they’ve sunk to submarine depths. Both are in their second terms, and they’re term limited. Given their unpopularity in their respective states, what else would their next steps be, except to run for a different office? And what else would Santorum or former Texas Gov. Rick Perry do, anyway? Pretty soon, we’ll forget the names of others still in the hunt: Former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore.

After all, not everyone can land a hosting job at Fox News.


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