“His virtue is he’s not crazy. He’s a sane human being.” — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders comparing former Republican candidate John Kasich to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz
Now that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the 2016 presidential race will be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it’s hard to believe that less than a year ago nearly two dozen candidates were vying for the nomination. It’s even harder to believe that none were ever able to overtake the two front-runners.
Clinton and Trump have led pole to pole (and poll to poll) despite being disliked by legions of people. How did we get here? What does this say for the other candidates? Some have called this year’s field the craziest in history.
That’s a bold statement. There have been some pretty “crazy” candidates for president of the United States.
There have been true crazies, like Homer Tomlinson, a preacher from New York who ran for president in the 1950s. When he lost, he simply appointed himself “King of the World.” Or Leonard “Live Forever” Jones of Kentucky, who ran for president in the mid-1800s. He actually thought he could live forever.
Rock stars have run for president. Joe Walsh of the Eagles ran in 1980 on a platform of “Free Gas for Everyone.” Jello Biafra, lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, lost the Green Party nomination to Ralph Nader in 2000 but then supported Nader in the general election. Nader’s presence probably cost Al Gore the election, resulting in the presidency of George W. Bush.
Bernie Sanders is far from the only socialist to ever run for president. Others include Eugene Debs, who represented the Socialist Party in five presidential elections between 1900 and 1920. He ran his last campaign from federal prison, where he was serving 10 years for opposing U.S. involvement in World War I.
The American Communist Party was a major party between 1924 and 1940, holding its conventions in places like New York City’s Opera House and Madison Square Garden. In 1940, the party’s candidate, Earl Browder, accepted the nomination while out on bail for passport forgery.
Hillary Clinton is not the only woman to run for president. The first was Victoria Woodhull. She ran as a member of the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Her running mate was Frederick Douglass, a former slave. She also favored legalized prostitution. More recently, other women have included Ellen McCormack, a single-issue candidate for the Right to Life Party.
There have been candidates from obscure parties like the Queer Nation Party and the Vampires, Witches and Pagans Party. Animals, kids and cartoon characters have run, albeit not seriously. A whole slew of entertainers, from Stephen Colbert to Roseanne Barr, have run.
In the 1960s and 70s, Pat Paulsen was a perennial candidate for president. For you youngsters out there, Paulsen was a satirical political commentator on a great TV show at the time called the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Another perennial candidate from that era was Lyndon LaRouche. This guy ran every year it seemed. He questioned the Holocaust. It was also reported that he thought someone on his staff was kidnapped by the CIA and programmed to assassinate him.
When we learned about our “founding fathers” – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, their good friend Ben Franklin and that whole 70s political rat pack (we’re talking the 1770s) – these were mythical, godlike creatures. You felt like they were the best and brightest the colonies had to offer.
To say we no longer view our political leaders with such reverence is beyond an understatement. Besides Trump, a real estate mogul with no political experience, and Clinton, a former First Lady being investigated by the FBI, the final five in this year’s race included a right-wing zealot despised by his own party, a governor whose only primary win was his home state, and a 74-year-old Socialist.
Whatever you think of this year’s candidates, however, they are hardly the weirdest bunch to ever run for president. In other words, it could be worse.
Howard Harrison is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years of writing for organizations. He has been a speechwriter for Fortune 500 CEOs and ghost-written books outside the corporate sector.