Why do people run for president? Primary losers have a feast of career options

October 27, 2015, 1:30 PM UTC

On Wednesday evening in Boulder, Colo., the remaining 15 Republican presidential candidates will take the stage in two debates — a main event and an under card — in their party’s third gathering to snipe, trade barbs, and perhaps even discuss policy issues.

The third GOP debate comes just two weeks after the Democrats gathered in Las Vegas, an event that knocked out two of the party’s longer-shot candidates, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee.

This leaves around 18 serious candidates for the two party’s presidential nominees. Of those 18, a few candidates seem to have an inside track to the White House. Why, then, are so many of the others sticking around, even though their chances seem so remote? Well, for a variety of reasons:

To get the vice presidential nomination

Lost in all of the presidential hysteria sometimes is the fact that there are two people on each party’s ticket. Sometimes, the vice presidential nominee will come be one of the primary losers. For instance, in 2008 Joe Biden ran for president before dropping out and eventually being chosen as Barack Obama’s running mate. In 1980, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush fought a bitter nomination fight before Reagan chose Bush to be his vice presidential nominee.

Who among the current crop of presidential hopefuls actually has their eyes on the No. 2 job? One that springs to mind is Carly Fiorina. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO is light on political experience but heavy on charisma and debate prowess. Vice president’s are often tasked with being the “attack dog” for the campaign, giving the name at the top of the ticket to appear above the fray. Other candidates possibly looking for the VP nod? Martin O’Malley for the Democrats and Bobby Jindal for the Republicans.

To get some other position in the administration

There are a whole host of cabinet-level posts that a new president will have to fill once in the Oval Office. Many of those officials could be plucked from the also-rans. Lindsay Graham, for instance, may be looking to be named Secretary of Defense, especially if someone like Marco Rubio, who has a similarly neoconservative outlook on national defense, were to win the White House. Chris Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, could be looking to establish himself as a candidate for Attorney General.


To sell books or get a job in media

In 2008, Mike Huckabee ran for president as a relatively unknown former Arkansas governor. Afterward, he was elevated to a lofty status among the Christian right. By the end of 2008, he had his own show on Fox News, which he hosted until earlier this year, when he decided to run for president again. And wouldn’t you know it, Huckabee just released a new book. Ben Carson also has a new book, and Donald Trump has one coming out next month. We’ll be sure to see candidates who don’t receive the nomination—perhaps even Bernie Sanders, if he were to leave the Senate—end up as talking heads when the dust settles.

To keep their name out there

In politics, it’s all about being in the conversation. If you’ve been out of office too long or haven’t found a media gig, running for president can be a good way to keep your name on people’s radar. Rick Santorum, out of office since he lost his Senate seat in 2006, seems to be doing this. So does former New York Governor George Pataki and, formerly, Webb and Chafee. Having a recent campaign can also help candidates maintain high speaking fees after the campaign is over.

To actually try to be president

Yes, some small part of all of these candidates actually believes they will be president. But who is really in it to win it? Hillary Clinton, obviously. Probably Bernie Sanders. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Donald Trump? Maybe, though it is difficult to tell what The Donald is thinking.

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