The Slatest

The Running of the Also-Rans: 2016’s Expanding Presidential Fringe

Ben Carson’s got fans, but will they remember him when he’s gone?

Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images

Monday was a big day for officially launching presidential campaigns: Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former HP executive Carly Fiorina both threw their hats into the GOP primary ring. In terms of memorability, Fiorina’s appearance on Good Morning America and earnest launch video couldn’t compete with Carson’s 23-minute musical interlude on stage in Detroit featuring a gospel cover of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

Memorability, after all, is the most achievable goal for sub-prime presidential candidates, who lack a realistic chance of capturing a party’s nomination, never mind the White House, and will be lucky to make an impact on the race by dragging the party’s eventual nominee further toward one end of the spectrum or the other. The best investment a Ben Carson or a Carly Fiorina can make in their futures is to make sure the public remembers them after they drop out.

So what chance does this crop of presidential longshots have of capturing our imagination?

While Carson might have upstaged Fiorina on opening day, he’s up against a formidable foe in the arena of eye-catching promotion. Fiorina’s attempt to unseat California Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2010 is remembered mostly for its “demon sheep” primary ad, which crossed so far over the line into ridiculousness that one had to wonder if there was a mole sabotaging her campaign from within. If Fiorina can channel that level of absurdism into her current campaign, she’ll make voters forget all about Carson’s Eminem/gospel mashups and maybe even wind up with her own radio show.

Mike Huckabee, who is expected to announce Tuesday that he’s getting into the race, has the advantage of having held office as governor of Arkansas, but in terms of pizazz, he’s behind Carson and Fiorina for one important reason: We’ve seen it all before. Huckabee held on through most of the 2008 Republican primary and hasn’t seemed to switch up his approach that much. Sure, Huckabee’s been known to jam with Ted Nugent, but if he’s going to be the rock’n’roll candidate, he’ll have to find some less incendiary bandmates.

The list of B-list candidates is shorter on the Democratic side, with Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chaffee at a sizeable disadvantage against actual Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also has both his ability to make fiery floor speeches in the Senate and his distinctive Back to the Future hair working for him.

While the political press still has awhile to wait for some of the top-tier contenders to just admit they’re running already, the presidential field, like many fields in late spring, continues to show some interesting growth.