They have no chance to win.
So, why are they running?
I am thinking about the 20 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination who participated in the latest round of debates.
Of course, several have a reasonable chance of winning the nomination: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and maybe a few others.
Most of the rest have a better chance of winning the lottery than winning the nomination, but in their minds there are still good reasons to be running.
For some it is a simple matter of building their brands. Take Marianne Williamson, for instance. She is the popular author of more than 20 new age Christian books. Her recent appearance on the debate stage got her renewed attention and a boost in book sales. Think what every other author would give to get the attention she has earned as a candidate.
Andrew Yang is a respected business leader in a narrow field. As a result of his candidacy and his good performance, he will not need an introduction when he puts together his next business deal. People like Warren Buffet will return his calls.
Others are in the brand building business too. But they have something else in mind — a new job.
It is different for U.S. senators (Warren, Sanders, Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet) who would be reluctant to give up their current high status positions for any other job. Most of the others will be job seekers in November 2020. They know that should a Democrat win next year’s election, there will be hundreds of positions the new president will have to fill. Some of the current candidates will have an edge. They will know the new president. They have been on the stage together.
The new president, having observed his debate opponents will have an idea about what kind of people they are, how they react to pressure, whether they are trustworthy, and what kind of diplomatic skills they have. All this the new president, if a Democrat, will have learned about the other presidential contenders.
Similarly, today’s presidential contenders, by getting to know the eventual nominee and president, will know how best to frame a winning pitch to get a job in the new administration. Take for instance Pete Buttigieg. Most of us had never heard of him until a few months ago. But we have learned that he is smart, quick on his feet, articulate, trustworthy, speaks several foreign languages and has been a Rhodes Scholar and a soldier. He is cool and persuasive. He could be secretary of state or ambassador to the United Nations.
Julian Castro served as secretary of housing and urban development for President Obama. The new president may ask him to take that position again.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee may have staked a claim for the top job at the Environmental Protection Agency. Here are other possibilities: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, secretary of agriculture; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, secretary of labor; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, secretary of veterans affairs; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, administrator of the Small Business Administration; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, secretary of interior; and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, secretary of housing and urban development if Castro turns it down.
“What about former Rep. Beto O’Rourke,” I asked North Carolina native and Washington insider, Walter Dellinger. He responded, “I’d tell O’Rourke to get back to Texas and run for the Senate again, and if he didn’t, he’d not get any job in my administration.”
When you ask again why there are so many candidates for president, just remember that most of them are really auditioning for some other job.