The 17th Candidate

Here are the 17 candidates in alphabetical order, except for Jim Gilmore, who apparently got in too late to make the graphic artist’s deadline.

I’ve been wondering what it must feel like to be the 17th candidate in the crowd of 17 running for the Republican presidential nomination. They vary from poll to poll — one day it’s Lindsey Graham, the next it’s Bobby Jindal, only to be supplanted by Jim Gilmore or George Pataki. It’s a tight race for the 17th spot, and there are quite a few deserving contenders.

I think too much attention is given to the front runners. Most commentaries focus on the absurdity of Donald Trump leading the pack or the stunning fall from grace of Jeb Bush or Scott Walker. Some zero in on the internecine war between Rand Paul and Chris Christie or the unexpected surge of Marco Rubio or Carly Fiorina. But what about the guys that are polling at 1% or less? They are the ones desperate to find a niche, willing to consider almost any scheme to be discovered. The battle to be dead last may be the most overlooked story of this presidential campaign.

I have heard some cynics dismiss all these Republican candidates as losers. This is grossly unfair to those who have fought hard for that designation and deserve the right to reap the fruits of their labors. Some have crafted carefully-considered position statements on the issues and posted them on their website. This is important, because Americans can go to that source and read what the candidate believes, after which they can then declare with full approbation, “Geeze, that guy is a loser.” It is lazy and unpatriotic to arrive at that conclusion without knowing what stupid positions they hold.

The fight for last place also gets confusing when we hear that some of the contenders have been endorsed by God. Some of us who believe in God tend to think He would go for somebody at least in the middle of the pack, if not the top five. I’m not suggesting God would line up for Trump just because he’s in first place — there are simply too many mixed metaphors in that relationship. And I would understand if He had trouble going with someone named Jeb, although God has worked with Esau and Nebuchadnezzar, so I suppose it’s possible. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought that God looked with favor on teachers, so Scott Walker is probably not going to get the nod.

I could go down the list, but I just think that it is possible that the 17th spot is still in play for God’s support. The word on the street is that there are a number of God-centered Super PACs being formed. Some long-time contributors to Republican causes are murmuring (a biblical form of muttering) about the requirement that a 10% tithe comes right off the top of every political gift and goes straight to God. This has not been expected of Republicans in the past, but some of the candidates vying for the 17th spot are apparently willing to cut the deal.

Off the record, political insiders have said that lining up God’s endorsement brings with it a number of volunteers experienced in going door to door. However, seasoned political operatives are expressing concern that some of those canvassers are wanting to include their own pamphlets listing the social behaviors that will result in one’s eternal damnation to the firey pits of hell. Several of the candidates that the polls list as likely 17th placers denied that they had agreed to this, indicating that negotiations were ongoing.

The other thing that must be disheartening is the ubiquitous publication of polling results in graphically embarrassing ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bar chart, a pie chart, or a line chart. When you are a tiny blip on a chart published on the front page of USA Today, surely you hope like the dickens that the girl you asked to the high school prom isn’t sitting there thinking, “Geeze, what a dweeb you turned out to be, Lindsey.”

Things are surely awkward at Thanksgiving and Christmas if you’re the 17th candidate. “So, what are you doing these days, George?” inquires a favorite aunt, feigning any awareness that you’re running for President of the United States but are trailing Bobby Jindal in the “Looks Presidential” poll on CNN. It’s a tough spot for families. Most want to be supportive but nobody wants to back a loser and look like a fool. In politics, blood is thicker than water, but only if it’s distilled water.

To be in the trenches with the 17th candidate must be a tremendous head trip, if not a spiritual epiphany. It’s you against the establishment, the nay-sayers, the political pundits, the elites, the donor class, and your own desperation. But onward you go, bottled water in hand, and prognosticators be damned. “The last shall be first,” you declare, citing the Bible or Shakespeare or Judge Judy.

For the 17th candidate, there is one big danger. There is always the chance that you will be misquoted or misunderstood, and thereby come off sounding wise and interesting, accidentally setting off an unintended firestorm that catches the attention of Morning Joe or causes Donald Trump to belittle you. Then you will climb up a few points in the polls, lose your claim to the 17th slot, and be lost to history forever.