Candidates With the Best Paths to Not Running for President

A non-unbiased guide

This week, Eric Holder announced he wasn’t running for president, but instead fighting against gerrymandering and for the Democratic nominee. On Thursday, Sherrod Brown followed in his footsteps, saying he’d focus on being a Senator in Ohio. And though a few people are sowing doubts, Hillary Clinton seems to have definitively declared a not-run, saying she’ll be working on issues and helping other candidates.

These are the successes. All these candidates saw that they had great chances to not run for president and do something useful instead, and they weren’t afraid to take advantage of that opportunity. Unfortunately, though the Democratic party is filled with excellent, promising not-running-for-president candidates, many of those with the most potential aren’t not running. Take John Hickenlooper, for example, who blew a perfect chance to not run for president – no name recognition, no significant hook, a much better opportunity in-state running against Cory Gardner - by announcing his candidacy last week. Or Tulsi Gabbard, who’s been building a strong case to not run for her whole life, but threw all that work aside and launched a campaign in January.

Here’s some of the other prominent candidates in the Democratic field, and the best chances they have of not being in the presidential race:

THE LONG SHOTS

Joe Biden

He still has a chance to surprise us, but all signs point to Joseph Robinette Biden disappointing the many millennials, women, and people of color who think he’d be a perfect candidate not to run for president. He’s seemingly got all the essential ingredients: a past with plenty of racist and misogynist moments to draw on, the gift of gaffe, the fusion of social and economic centrism to attract none of the party’s most energized groups, a unique ability to misunderstand the struggles of rising generations, and the perfect age for a candidate to not be running for president. But it seems almost certain that a combination of name recognition, popular substitution of Boomer-era white men for all of the “working class,” and his inflated belief in himself will combine to torpedo his chances of not running, though does have a chance to not win the nomination.

Bernie Sanders

Any take on Senator Sanders will be controversial, but, as a figure with national profile, a big group of followers, and a strong clear message about one aspect of power in America, Bernie was perfectly positioned to not run for president and throw his weight into influencing policy and bringing enthusiasm to the candidacy of someone better equipped to handle the complexities of race and gender in America without the baggage of a problematic 2016 campaign. It’s understandable that he declined to not run in that year, as he didn’t yet have the name recognition to mainstream his ideas without stepping in to the spotlight, but now, having laid all the groundwork to not run, he seems to be missing his golden opportunity, taking a major step back when he announced he was running for president and sinking even further when early polls showed he was a frontrunner.

Kamala Harris

This is a real long shot: Senator Harris has no intention of not running for President, and her path to dropping out is already very narrow, having already lined up major endorsements, especially in California, met with major fundraisers, and staffed up with a very active communications team that will all but prevent her from doing so. As a relatively fresh face in the Senate, she hasn’t had as much time to make a case for not running as some other candidates, and though she could potentially build one on her record as attorney general, it’s unlikely to take hold with the majority of voters. Since Harris won’t not be running any time soon, it’s maybe a better use of energy to convince other non-running or even running candidates to push her to be more progressive on policy, particularly with regards to economics.

THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK

Cory Booker

From a distance, Cory Booker doesn’t look like the strongest candidate not to run for president, which is why he’s often left into the conversation, year after year. But talk to people who’ve followed him closely – his tenure as Newark mayor, his voting record in the Senate, his scintillatingly disappointing event appearances and interviews – and they’ll tell you that he’s actually a much stronger pick for someone not to run for higher office than he may appear to the casual observer. While he has some name recognition and is saddled with a strong lead in nationwide endorsements, he still has a shot of not running by early 2020 if he can show enough voters the Cory Booker that New Jerseyans know.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto blew what some are calling a golden opportunity to not run for president – challenging John Cornyn for a Senate seat instead – last week, and most fear he’ll keep sliding by officially announcing a presidential run soon. Even if he declares, however, hope isn’t fully lost for him to drop out of the race in time to be useful elsewhere. If he skirts the line of getting elbowed out of big donations and endorsements, attracting the apathy of progressives with an unexciting platform, and touting his relative inexperience, he just might overcome his charisma and the momentum of a strong Texas campaign to drop to the back of the ranks.

Elizabeth Warren

I’ll admit it; I’m still a very strong doubter of the case for Elizabeth Warren not running for president, though I’ll acknowledge that she could end up pulling off not running anyway, mainly by getting crowded out of her base by Bernie Sanders. The problem with Warren not running is that she’s saddled with the baggage of bold, clear policies, a long record of moral consistency, and a strong command of the issues, and after the initial step of running it’s hard to justify stepping down with all that hanging over her. Still, sexism, ageism, and a preference for a certain type of media performance might be enough of a combination to nudge her into not running before the primary’s over.

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar is a candidate whose case for not running I didn’t see a month ago; she was a very popular senator in a key midwestern state with a record of voting for progressive policies but maintaining crossover appeal, hardly the first image you have in mind for a candidate to not get involved. But with a combination of a staff mistreatment record that seems to be getting stronger with further reporting and a strong policy platform that is impressively behind the rest of the pack, she’s moving up a little bit, and is certainly one to watch.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Gillibrand’s early case for not running, based largely on vague, sexism-tinged slights to her personality and specious claims about the “character assassination” of Al Franken, was pretty flimsy if not outright insulting. But with a weak statement on Ilhan Omar yesterday and generally impressive work getting off to a slow start, she might be picking up some momentum. Die-hard fans of Gillibrand not running will point to her gathering zero endorsements from political figures in New York, but even they have to admit that she’s not the first, second, or even third candidate you think of when someone mentions people from that state who shouldn’t run for president.

THE NEW YORK BOYS

Andrew Cuomo

New Yorkers can’t stop talking about Andrew Cuomo, and will tell you passionately that you can’t find a better candidate not to run for president, or even not to run for governor, in the whole nation. From enabling the IDC, to consistently undermining progressives and alienating activists, to mismanaging the MTA, to flip-flopping on every position possible, to being inaccessible to all but the most powerful players in his state, Cuomo has built an across-the-board case as someone who shouldn’t run for president that nobody understands better than his constituents. The many adoring fans of Cuomo’s non-candidacy are hoping that his former right-hand man, Joe Percoco, beginning to serve his six-year sentence on bribery charges next week will be just the push he needs to get out of the race.

Bill de Blasio

While Cuomo’s undoubtedly the leader in New York politicians who shouldn’t run for president, voters shouldn’t overlook Bill de Blasio, who can draw a strong coalition of progressive who watched him compromise on every key issue of his agenda, conservatives who never supported it in the first place, and casual voters who just see him as a big ego, to support him not running. Though he’s been worrying some with a tour of early primary states in March, there’s still hope he gets the advice he needs to boldly step out of the race.

Michael Bloomberg

Grassroots New Yorkers have long said that billionaire finance/tech/media magnate and former mayor Michael Bloomberg shouldn’t run for president, but never have been fully confident that he wouldn’t. So his announcement last week was a great surprise to his many followers, and may, if he can persuade other independent billionaires like Howard Schultz to follow in his footsteps, serve as the crowning achievement of his political career.

THE MAN WHO COULD BE NOT-KING

Trump

While the Democrats have a lot of great candidates to not run for president, they’ll never match Donald Trump, who’s arguably the best candidate not to run for president in American history. Tragically, not only did he fail to not run in 2016, but the Republican party failed miserably to not nominate him. Many, including the president himself, may be privately regretting that decision, though most won’t admit it publicly at the time.

Some Americans holding out hope for a miracle: Trump simply announcing his not-run could send waves of joy throughout the world, bring huge crowds to their feet, and stand as one of the greatest acts to restore American pride in history.

But practically, he’s too immodest to not-run himself, so the work will fall on other people to draft him for non-presidency. Fortunately, the base who would love to see him in that position is strong, committed, passionate, and huge in numbers, and may pull it off in 2020, even if they’re rallied behind one of the failed not-being-president candidates above.

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Gonna be on vacation for the next two weeks - make do with other stuff to read!