Mar 24, 2019

The great political parachute

Sure, the market for Democratic presidential candidates is getting a little saturated. So why are some Democrats still thinking of jumping in? Because there's almost never a downside to running.

Data: Axios research; Chart: Harry Stevens and Aïda Amer/Axios

The big picture: It doesn't have to be someone who might actually get close to the White House, like Joe Biden. The candidates of the crowded fields in the last few presidential elections — even the also-rans — almost always came out ahead or, at worst, ended up in the same place.

  • Unless they have skeletons in their closets that could be exposed, there's really no reason for yet another long-shot candidate not to give it a chance.

No Democrat will say they're running for something else, like vice president or Cabinet secretary. But that's where some of them will end up, if the Democratic nominee beats President Trump.

  • If Trump wins, some of them are young enough to give it another try in four years. And if that doesn't happen, they can always become a cable news talking head.

A quick look at the "whatever happened to them" file:

  • Hillary Clinton (2008) became Barack Obama's secretary of state before moving on to that other presidential race.
  • Joe Biden (2008) became Obama's vice president.
  • Mitt Romney (2008) became the Republican nominee four years later — and is now a senator from Utah.
  • Rick Perry (2012, 2016) is Trump's energy secretary.
  • Ben Carson (2016) is Trump's HUD secretary.
  • John Kasich (2016) finished out his term as Ohio governor, became a CNN commentator and hasn't ruled out running against Trump again.
  • Bernie Sanders (2016) is running again.
  • Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul (2016) all went back to the Senate.
  • Even Howard Dean (2004) survived "the scream" and became chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

There can be a couple of downsides, but they're rare. One is that you're taken less seriously if you don't do well and disappear (Herman Cain/Michele Bachmann, 2012) — or you're never taken seriously in the first place (Mike Gravel, 2008).

The bottom line: Go ahead, Michael Bennet, Terry McAuliffe, Seth Moulton and Eric Swalwell. Knock yourselves out. And really, Stacey Abrams — why settle for VP?

Go deeper: Track which candidates are running

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