Being shitty at running for president has worked out pretty well for Mike Huckabee when you think about it. Given that the sum total of his political achievements is winning the 2008 Iowa Caucus and being elected Governor of Dogpatch twice, the man is fabulously well-off. In 2008 and again in 2016 he has used other people's money to run for president not with the expectation of winning but to give priceless publicity to the Mike Huckabee Brand. And before you chuckle at that dismissively, remember just how lucrative Beltway Welfare can be. Speaking fees at right-wing events, AM Radio and Fox News hosting gigs, book deals, personal brand stuff on the internet…this man has no doubt been earning millions of dollars per year since leaving elected office in 2006. And it has been for remarkably easy work.
It's hard to say that running for president and getting creamed has not worked out very well for Mr. Huckabee and his family. That's why New York mag asking "Is Ben Carson Running for President?" is long overdue. As I've been saying for…well, years, I guess…the line between self-promotion and campaigning has long since become indistinct. These people who have zero chance of winning the nomination are hanging around for one reason, and it isn't because they like doing a debate every two weeks. Even those doing well like Carson and Trump aren't clearly Serious Candidates as opposed to two guys trolling. Trolling hard. As Chait states:
But now Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency.
The system has become so ridiculous and the idea of personal branding through social media has become so pervasive and potentially lucrative that it is now impossible to determine who is running for president and who is running to build an empire of dolts easily parted from their cash. It is relatively easy to spot a career narcissist like Trump and wonder aloud if he is dumb enough to think he can win or if this is all an elaborate publicity stunt. That skepticism needs to be applied more broadly, though. 90% of the people running are suspect on that criteria. The professional campaigning industry abets this large scale grift too. What paid consultant is going to tell Bobby Jindal that he is a lost cause? There's free money to be had. Why get off the gravy train until absolutely necessary? Just keep pretending you're serious about getting elected, collect checks from cartoonishly rich donors and mouth-frothing old white people, and plot ways to convert the publicity into cold, hard cash when the tap finally runs dry. All you have to do is suffer through a few months of relatively light work. Everybody gets paid. Everybody wins.
This is what we've come to.