Make losing embarrassing again

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Make losing embarrassing again

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Losing elections used to be embarrassing. Failed politicians would typically ride off into the sunset back to the private sector, or retirement, rarely to be seen or heard from again.

The 21st century and the progress that accompanied the new millennium, most notably social media, changed all of that. Nowadays, there is a certain shamelessness permeating the political class, culminating in 17 Republicans running for the highest office in the land in 2016 and a whopping 29 Democrats doing so in 2020.


Many pundits and casual observers have expressed exhaustion at the mounting number of Republican candidates jumping into the 2024 presidential primary. Fellow Washington Examiner contributor Brad Polumbo tweeted, “I’m getting really sick of these vanity Republican presidential campaigns. Y’all are going to hand the nomination to Trump just so you can get your name in the press and grift off some campaign funds, and it’s really gross.”

Brad is correct, of course, but the crux of the issue is that politicians have learned the lesson from 2016 and 2020 that losing is no longer detrimental to a political career. In fact, losing pays off big.

Name a politician who ran in the last two presidential primary cycles who is worse off now than they were before. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are still influential senators; John Kasich was term-limited. No one had heard the name Ben Carson before, and he ended up as the secretary of housing and urban development, despite a background as a successful neurosurgeon. Bernie Sanders wrote another book and made millions, Kamala Harris failed up to vice president, and Pete Buttigieg parlayed the mayorship of South Bend, Indiana, into a cushy job heading the Department of Transportation. Beto O’Rourke may be setting up a fourth straight losing bid as we speak; rich California Democrats seem to be addicted to cutting checks to the former south Texas congressman.

The big three cable news networks routinely hire failed candidates as on-air contributors, and a plethora of failed 2022 candidates are lining up to run it back next year. There is simply no negative incentive attached to losing. Sure, candidates may receive some mockery online, but that is a small burden for a politician to bear after raising millions of dollars and doubling his or her social media presence.

Everyone knows, almost certainly including the also-ran candidates themselves, that the GOP nominee next July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will either be former President Donald Trump or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Since an overwhelming majority of voters prefer one of those two men, reason would dictate that a one-on-one primary would be best for the party and the country. Let the two top dogs duke it out uninterrupted by vanity campaigns.

But there is too much money to be made, and there are too many books to be written. The only people who truly lose are the voters.


Brady Leonard (@bradyleonard) is a musician, political strategist, and host of The No Gimmicks Podcast.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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