Hidden Motives Behind the Huge GOP Primary

Campaigning as a Full-Time Job

sarah-palin9371In July 2009, a popular governor made a confusing decision -- Sarah Palin decided to resign. Perhaps understanding she could make a stronger impact for America as a right-wing star than as a lame-duck governor, she chose campaigning over governing -- and made a huge payday. Whatever inspired the switch to full-time celebrity, it made Palin rich.

As Governor, Palin made $125,000 per year -- not bad, but not rich, according to one of former presidential candidate John McCain’s former advisors. “Deep down, she wanted to make money” he told New York Magazine. “There was always financial stress. They’re not wealthy people.”

Retiring from the governorship, Palin became -- in essence -- a full-time campaigner. In May 2009, she signed a $7 million book deal with Harper Collins, and went on tour. Added to the Washington Speakers Bureau (a company which lists George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani as its clients), Palin made $100,000 per speech. In the year after resigning as governor, she made $12 million.

Dr. Ben Carson’s post-neurosurgeon experience has been kind on his pocketbook as well. Since January 2014, he has earned $27 million from delivering 141 speeches and publishing three books. Texas Senator Ted Cruz made $1.5 million for his new book, A Time for Truth. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina racked up almost $1 million during the past year for speeches and sales of her memoir.

As New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman points out, the 2016 GOP may seem like “less of a political party and more like a talent agency for the conservative media industry.” Each declaration of a presidential run may prove less a push for power and more an audition for celebrity status.

Each candidate receives free hours of TV, radio, and internet attention, with the likely promise of bigger things to come. “Even if you lose, you exponentially increase your marketability,” a GOP consultant told Sherman. “Right now, let’s say you’re giving speeches for $20 grand. You run and it becomes $40,000. If you do well, maybe there’s a Fox show. Then you write a book about how to save the party.”

This provides a strong economic incentive to declare those five magic words -- “I am running for president!”

The Search for Political Favors

When the prestige of being a national candidate wears off, many of these challengers will look up new job postings -- in a new administration. In the case of a Republican loss, they have celebrity to fall back upon. But as each of the low-polling candidates pulls out, they will do everything they can to curry favor with the eventual nominee.

Just as President Barack Obama nominated his key primary challenger as secretary of State, a new Republican president will likely have offices picked out for his former rivals. After all, President Ronald Reagan chose his challenger, George H. W. Bush, for his running mate.

While there is always a chance the competent governors who lag in the polls could jump ahead if one of the frontrunners falls, this may be one strong motivation behind candidates like Kasich, Perry, Jindal, Christie, and Pataki. After all, Jindal has a strong reputation for policy -- not popularity -- and may serve as an excellent cabinet member for a President Bush, Rubio, or Walker.

If prominent Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul (and on the other side, Lindsey Graham) never make it past the finish, they can more easily team up with the new administration and nudge the eventual nominee closer to their values and policy positions.

Even while Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina make millions running for president, they may forge the relationships they need to end up in high cabinet positions -- Carson as surgeon general and Fiorina as VP or a powerful woman in the cabinet.

Donald Trump, with his self-financed campaign and bombastic personality, is perhaps the one person who won't make money or gain favors -- but he's clearly enjoying himself and adding to the conversation.