The Large Field of Candidates Reflects Our Current Politics

This op-ed by CCLP senior fellow Matthew Dowd was originally published in the New York Times.

The quantity of candidates running for president won’t matter so much as the quality of leadership and vision that emerges by the end of the process. Having numerous candidates didn’t hurt Democrats in 1992 and 2008 when they fielded double digits numbers. Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama made it through successfully while becoming better candidates.

The large field is reflective of four things: three concern our current political environment, and one a reflection of our culture. First, the large field is a sign that many see the real possibility of capturing the White House. The current president’s job approval is in the 40s, the percentage of people who think the country is on the wrong track is in the 60s and a majority of voters want a change in policies. All of which improves the odds for the G.O.P. in the general election if the right candidate emerges.

Second, multiple candidates reveals that there is no dominant player in the G.O.P. race. The leading candidate has only 15 percent of the vote. Thus a candidate who gets “hot” can emerge from the process with no elephant candidacy to contend with. This is highly unusual for the G.O.P. where they normally have a candidate-in-waiting ready to take the mantle.

Third, the Republican Party is composed of four equal constituencies: the establishment, Tea Party folks, libertarians, and social conservatives – and no one has found a message or a mechanism in uniting these four elements. It leaves multiple opportunities to appeal to members of these four groups and opens the field for many candidates.

And fourth, the multitude of candidates running is reflective of the current reality TV culture. You could call it the Kardashian effect — more people now earn a living just by being famous, not for any social good accomplished. I suspect some candidates are running for this reason, to gain publicity and celebrity, and possibly for a book deal or a TV show. In short, to create their own Andy Warhol moment.

Many candidates running for president is a reflection of our current politics and times and isn’t going to be a negative for the general election. In the end, a candidate who can appeal to a great majority will determine success, and if that doesn’t happen — no matter if three or 33 ran at the start — he or she will lose.

Matthew Dowd, a lead analyst for ABC News, has worked in campaigns on both sides of the aisle, including as chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, and is now a vigorous independent. He is the founder of Paradox Capital, a social impact venture fund, and is on Twitter.