If the polls are correct, and they usually are, Jerry Brown will demolish Neel Kashkari on Tuesday. In fact, much of the speculation among California pundits (see: Calbuzz election line) these days revolves around a single figure: the percentage of the vote by which Brown will win re-election.
Except for stalwarts in the Kashkari campaign, the only question among political junkies now seems to be how much of a defeat he will suffer.
Politicians are generally not masochists. (Well, there was Harold Stassen. He ran for, and lost, the Republican presidential nomination in 1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1988.) Leaving aside nine-time-loser Stassen, though, what motivates a politician to wage a forlorn campaign that can only end in crushing disappointment?
Counting the crowd: Some believe that rational candidates run doomed campaigns because they want to get their name out there and set the stage for a future run for something, somewhere. One or two stumbles don’t spell doom. Richard Nixon was defeated for the presidency, defeated for the governorship of California, and was then elected president of the United States. Maybe there’s a post-election book deal out there, or a gig on Fox. And remember, even in defeat, Kashkari will become known up and down the state by November. Name recognition is gold in politics, and now he’ll have it. Gangway for 2018!
But think about this: To the underdog candidate, it’s not a forlorn campaign. He or she is a center of attention. The candidate speaks before adoring audiences made up of the party faithful, even if they are outnumbered 10 to one by the opposition. People come up to the candidate and tell her how wonderful she is. Making a speech before 200 vociferous backers can easily lead to a belief that the adoration is universal. I mean, look at that crowd!
Politicians are usually commanding, take-charge types, and few of them believe that they can ever be on the losing end of just about any kind of competition. The personality disorder that moves some people to become politicians not only demands attention, it fosters the belief that the politician is smart enough to pull this out by working hard, never mind what the media say.
Kashkari’s political future depends on how good an actor he is. If his concession speech is bitter and resentful of the raw deal he got from those fool voters, forget about a future in politics. But if he is gracious in defeat and voters watching him on television go away thinking, “Well, at least he’s a good sport,” maybe something might be possible down the road.
I, Neel: At the very least, Kashkari’s every utterance from now on is guaranteed at least some degree of attention. Jimmy Carter is on television all the time. There was even a play about him in New York. Bob Dole is now an admired elder statesman.
And there probably are a few sweet memories, like flecks of gold in a hunk of quartz. Who knows? Maybe there will be future opportunities to be adored.
Chuck McFadden is a former political reporter for The Associated Press and the author of “Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown” published by the University of California Press.