John Patty at Mischiefs of Faction has a theory about why there are so many Republicans running for president, Many Men, Many Supporters, United in Anger. Maybe — to some extent. I don’t think there is any more anger on the right, left, or center — but I will allow that the right has a whole industry built on fanning the flames of anger. Martin Longman over at Booman Tribune agrees with me, Why Are There So Many Candidates? He puts forward some practical ideas, like the effect of money in politics. You know: every candidate has his own billionaire. But I don’t think that is so important either.
I think the issue is more along the lines of what Daniel McCarthy said in A Line-up of Generic Conservative Candidates. But he isn’t really interested in the why question. He says that it doesn’t matter that there are so many candidates; they will start to disappear after the debates. The bigger problem is that for all the candidates, there really isn’t much in terms of disagreements. He noted that Rubio is posturing as a hawk and Rand as a dove, but they both jumped on the anti-Iran-deal criticism. He’s absolutely right: there really is no substantive differences between them.
And that, I think, is why there are so many candidates. If there are no issues to discuss, why not a brain surgeon who doesn’t believe in evolution? Or consider the case of Donald Trump. He’s the one candidate with some serious conservative apostasy. But he’s doing well because ideas don’t matter. It’s all about marketing. Who can talk the toughest? Bray the loudest? So why not a reality television star? Or an indicted governor? Or a failed corporate CEO? Or the brother of the worst president in history? Or for that matter, me?
This is going to be an election of, “Yes, but…” Bobby Jindal will say, I think we need to 10,000 more M1 Abrams tanks.” And Lindsey Graham will say, “Yes, but I think it should be 20,000!” Jeb Bush will suggest that they lower the top marginal tax rate to 25%, and Rick Perry will say, “Yes, but we should take it down to 15%.” And Ted Cruz will say, “Yes, yes, but we should just destroy the IRS!” Rick Santorum will say that we should make abortion illegal. And Mike Huckabee will say, “Yes, but we need to kill all the gays too.” It will be like that: a race to the bottom.
They can all fight over issues that won’t come up because they all start with positions that are so extreme that they will be difficult to enact even with complete control of Washington. So Republican Party primary voters have no real choice. This is like a beauty pageant. But instead of the looks of the candidates, the voters are expected to judge based upon grandstanding. Would a single Republican nominee be against repealing Obamacare? What about abandoning the Iranian nuclear treaty? Would any of them be against making the entire United States “right to work”? Or make a blanket ban on abortion? I think the answer to these questions is clearly no.
So why shouldn’t Scott Walker run for president? On the Democratic side, someone like Keith Ellison can look at the Democratic presidential nomination and think, “Bernie Sanders is already pushing the issues that I care about.” But if there were ten Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic nomination, why not Keith Ellison? In a world were all the candidates are generic as a practical matter, and where all the arguments are purely theoretical, there is no reason not to have 15 candidates. Perhaps we could use more. Maybe a few more with curly hair, a tall one, a blind one. Who knows what flavor of rigid conservative ideology the Republican base is going to prefer.