According to most coverage of the Iowa caucus, the maelstrom of media swirling in New Hampshire this week, and a majority of state presidential primary coverage, there’s about a dozen people in the running for President of the United States.
But according to the Federal Election Commission, the agency that regulates campaign finance and processes candidacy applications, there are 1,591 hopefuls among us.
How can this be? Who are these people? What are they thinking? And why haven’t we heard of more of them? And from them?
That’s exactly what led Craig Thomasoff, former television producer and veteran journalist with bylines from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times to People to author “The Can’t-idates—Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name,” and to travel 10,000 miles in three weeks to interview nearly 100 lesser-known candidates.
“Most people don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘You know what? Today I want to do something that will make friends leave me and everyone think I’m crazy,’” Thomasoff told me in an interview in Manchester. He added that such also-rans are essentially saying, “I will spend money I will never get back, and I will not achieve my goal.”
“There’s no chance, so why?” the author said. “I wanted to know what made people do it. Are they actually crazy?”
What Thomasoff found is that many of them actually aren’t nuts, but that despite that reality, virtually every major media outlet in the country thinks these people are a joke.
“It’s fascinating to realize there’s such a hatred for this, or a contempt,” Thomasoff said. “The way [the media and many people] see it, these people are getting in the way of the system, but these people are the system.”
Sure, there’s Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, a pro wrestler who ran in 2012. And you can’t forget about the Granite State’s arguably favorite perennial hopeful, performance artist and anarchist-satirist Vermin Supreme, who calls for laws requiring better dental hygiene and a for federal pony identification program. But there’s also a housewife with an autistic son who, in the course of caretaking, became horrified with what she saw on the news and wanted to do something to fix it. There’s also a brilliant auto mechanic in Michigan whose objectivity and level-headedness Thomasoff said would win his vote hands down.
“They’re not crazy,” Thomasoff said. “What they’re doing is crazy, but they definitely aren’t.”
Thomasoff has pitched almost every major news outlet on the campaign trail the story of non-professional politicians running for president, and every editor has rejected him, in one case saying people on the bottom rung of the ballot are “a bunch of lunatics.” A producer from NPR went so far as to tell him his idea was “too goofy,” and that they’re a “serious news organization” that only covers “serious people.”
And yet they cover Donald Trump all day.
“We’re so obsessed with winning and polls,” Thomasoff said. “Polls are nothing. Polls indicate that a bunch of people told us something, and [reporters] treat it like it’s gospel.”
That contemporary American politics are a sleazy game where money talks isn’t news, but Thomasoff’s experience hocking “The Can’t-idates” on the campaign trail underscores the media’s role in preserving the status quo.
“When NPR told me they’re a ‘serious news organization,’ I lost it,” the author said. “You’re NPR, you’re the voice of the public. They are the public. You don’t have to like [these hopefuls], you don’t have to vote for them, but Christ, just listen to them.”
“I hope when I was editor I was never this much of an asshole to anyone.”
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.