Nathaniel Rakich: Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley. When you hear about the 2024 Republican presidential race, you usually hear the same names over and over. But did you know there are actually more than 270 Republicans running for president? Of course, most of them are facing extremely long odds — and you might be wondering why they even bother running. So I called up a few of them to answer the question: What’s the deal with long-shot candidates for president?
Michigan businessman Perry Johnson is running for president because he’s deeply concerned about the national debt and thinks the country needs a leader with his business experience.
Perry Johnson: I actually think I’m the perfect candidate at the perfect time. I’ve spent my entire life bringing quality and efficiency to companies, and frankly, I don’t think we have it in the federal government right now.
Rakich: Steve Laffey has a similar pitch. He was the mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, from 2003 to 2007 and touts how he turned around the city’s finances.
Steve Laffey: That’s what I do. I fix bad financial problems. And so I decided to run on these issues, which some people think are third-rail issues, but in the end, changing the Fed, fixing Social Security, etc., are the real issues rather than the emails I get in from the Trump and the mini-Trumps, which is that a bunch of Marxists are gonna take over the country and they need money.
Rakich: Texas pastor Ryan Binkley thinks we need to get the debt under control, too. But his reason for running is more philosophical.
Ryan Binkley: It’s actually time for us to awaken up, and I would call it a rise into who we are as a nation. We’re really broken financially. We’re really broken and divided culturally, and I want to unite our country to solve our biggest problems, and I believe it’s time for us to do just that.
Rakich: All three candidates I talked to had important differences of opinion with Trump — which makes sense, since otherwise they probably wouldn’t be running against him. But I wouldn’t call Binkley and Johnson “anti-Trump.” They just had nits to pick with certain aspects of his presidency.
Johnson: Trump was a dramatically better president than Biden, in my opinion, by orders of magnitude. But I still think he spent too much money.
Binkley: Former President Trump, even Gov. DeSantis, they’re great leaders and they have a lot of good things to say, but their message of furthering and tilting to the right even harder to fight hard the left is not going to win the middle. And so my message is, listen, there are so many things we have in common together, and we need to focus on the problems we share.
Rakich: Laffey, on the other hand …
Laffey: I never voted for Trump. I never supported Trump.
Rakich: Laffey thinks Trump, who has now been indicted twice, needs to get out of the race, and that his fellow Republican candidates are making a mistake not attacking the front-runner.
Laffey: The Titanic of Trump has hit the iceberg. The water is coming in underneath. He’s going to go to jail.
Rakich: Laffey’s betting that not being a “mini-Trump” will leave him well positioned after the rest of the party sees the error of its ways.
Laffey: They will change their mind when the rats leave the ship. That’s my bet.
Rakich: All three candidates I talked to felt strongly enough about their pet issues that they’re willing to go through the wringer of a presidential campaign — despite the long odds.
Johnson: I typically make about six stops a day, and I will give six talks a day — five, six talks a day. We then might very well end up pulling into a town in Iowa at, might be midnight, 1 in the morning. You get to sleep at around 2 and then you wake up at around 6:30.
Rakich: But they also genuinely think they can shock the world and win.
Binkley: That’s exactly what we want to do. We want to shock the world.
Johnson: We’re building out in Iowa and New Hampshire. I have a huge advantage right now because Michigan will be number five. And I believe I am going to win Michigan.
Rakich: Laffey and Johnson both compared themselves to other presidential candidates who weren’t given much of a chance either.
Laffey: Jimmy Carter. September, October, November ’75 — nobody knows who he is. He wins because he was the right man for the times. This financial crisis will get so bad. Are people really going to turn to Ron DeSantis for financial advice?
Johnson: You and I both know that if we go back to the election in ’16, nobody ever thought Trump was going to win either. In fact, they were making jokes about it. Who did we think was going to win? Jeb Bush.
Rakich: Of course, Trump surged in the polls shortly after he jumped in the race. But Johnson is convinced that the same will happen to him once voters hear what he has to say.
Johnson: Bottom line is, we don’t really know who is going to be the nominee until we get on that debate stage. And that debate stage determines everything.
Rakich: Unfortunately for these three, the reality is that it’s going to be very hard for them to become the Republican nominee for president. As of July 12, not a single national poll has shown Johnson or Binkley above 1 percent support, while no pollster has even asked about Laffey. And between 1972 and 2016, candidates polling below 2 percent even in the first half of the year before the election won the nomination just 1 percent of the time.
Of course, that’s not all these candidates’ fault. It’s hard for them to rise in the polls without money and media attention, which are hard to get without rising in the polls … It’s a vicious cycle. But against all odds, they’re running anyway.