The Daily Caller Grades America’s Vanity Presidential Candidates

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It used to be — back when your grandfather drove an eight-cylinder Buick and America was still a serious country — that the people who selected themselves as presidential candidates had the common decency to have actual experience as governors or legislators. At the very least, they had successfully and victoriously overseen large armies.

That’s just the way it was, see. No one really questioned it.

Over the course of the last 40 years, though, the landscape of presidential elections politics has changed dramatically. Today, a loutish, serially bankrupt real estate magnate with frighteningly awful hair and a reality television show can stride the presidential primary stage like an insult-hurling colossus.

In response to the rise of Donald Trump, America’s talking heads have duly noted that his presidential candidacy resembles the candidacy of Ross Perot.

The comparison is apt. Both are vain, amateur-hour moguls with zero lawmaking experience.

However, the comparison between Trump and Perot is also supremely lazy because, over the last four decades, the United States has seen — and somehow survived — numerous other vanity presidential candidacies in the same basic mold. Most of them have been recent.

Below, The Daily Caller lists the most notable vanity candidates and grades their performances.

First things first, though: What is a vanity candidacy? A presidential vanity candidacy occurs when someone decides to run for president even though they have no actual experience governing or legislating — or even running a serious federal or statewide campaign. There are levels of purity. The most pure vanity presidential candidates have never even run for any federal or statewide office before deciding they should hold the most powerful and important government office in the world. (RELATED: YOU TOO Can Run For The 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination)

A presidential vanity candidacy is roughly the equivalent of you waltzing into the cockpit of a Boeing 747 and calling yourself the captain. Or perhaps it’s you sauntering into the locker room of the Seattle Seahawks and announcing that you plan to start at quarterback. (These analogies fail if you happen to be a jet pilot or you are, in fact, Russell Wilson, but you get the idea.)

Without further ado, then…

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump is a weird combination of the most grotesque and unpleasant elements of Al Czervik from Caddyshack and Gordon Gekko from Wall Street — with a dash of Jesse “The Body” Ventura thrown in for good measure. Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four different times — most recently just six years ago. He has never held electoral office. He has donated very, very handsomely to Democrats and he has avidly supported single-payer, socialist healthcare schemes. Yet, by many measures, Trump currently sits atop the overcrowded field of 2016 Republican presidential candidates. A+.

Rarely (if ever) in human history has God bestowed as much chutzpah on a single man as the amount allotted to Al Sharpton. The former tour manager for James Brown, one-time FBI informant and self-appointed civil rights activist has successfully put himself front and center in an amazing number of racial incidents including, most recently, the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Bryant. Sharpton is brilliant at staying the spotlight. He has run failed campaigns for president — in 2004, as a Democrat — as well as for U.S. Senate and mayor of New York City. In 2005, Sharpton agreed to reimburse the federal government for $100,000 in federal funds he received as a presidential candidate. A+.

If Trump had not declared his candidacy this year, and if Sharpton’s once-in-an-eon star had never shined, Republican Elizabeth Dole would surely be the poster child and measuring stick for successful vanity presidential candidacies. Dole, the wife of Bob Dole and a cabinet secretary under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, ran for president in 2000. She had no prior electoral experience. Her fundraising was inadequate. Nevertheless, she managed to parlay the failed presidential run in 2000 into a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina (despite not living in the state regularly for 40 years). A+.

Jesse Jackson attended the University of Illinois on a football scholarship before transferring to North Carolina A&T (where he played quarterback). He worked in the civil rights movement alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. For decades, he has led his own (sometimes controversial) civil rights groups. Through it all, the Democrat has never held any sort of public office but he did run unsuccessfully for president in 1984 and 1988. Jackson actually won a handful of primaries including Michigan (’88). Jackson’s runs for president in the 1980s definitely helped him stay rich and relevant. A.

Ross Perot 1992 YouTube screenshot CBS NewsBillionaire businessman Ross Perot broke the U.S. presidential election mold when he declared his independent candidacy in June 1992 despite running an information technology company previously and never holding any office. Perot once polled at nearly 40 percent nationally. Then, in July, he appeared on Larry King Live to announce that he was abandoning his campaign. He fretted about an Electoral College split, he said. Meanwhile, his campaign was in shambles. According to campaign manager Ed Rollins, a Republican, a Perot campaign staffer called Rollins a spy for George H.W. Bush and possibly the CIA. Then, Perot resumed his ’92 campaign. Perot’s 1992 campaign and a second 1996 campaign served utterly no purpose except to ensure victory for Bill Clinton, a governor and state attorney general with 13 years of governing experience. A-.

Consumer advocate and far-left activist Ralph Nader extended his 15 minutes of fame and received a healthy dose of donated cash by running as the Green Party presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000. Some Democrats blame Nader for Al Gore’s 2000 loss. Nader also ran a write-in campaign as a Democrat in the 1992 New Hampshire primary and as an independent in 2004 and 2008. Nader’s experience includes no lawmaking. However, he has written books, founded a nongovernmental organization and appeared on Sesame Street. A-.

Alan Keyes YouTube screenshot QuerardIn the sense of tenacity and a truly inspiring refusal to surrender, Republican Alan Keyes is perhaps America’s greatest vanity presidential candidate. He is certainly the most heroic. He only rates lower because he has not (yet!) been able to parlay his presidential ambition into a cushy job or a load of cash. Keyes, who has a Harvard Ph.D., has been an ambassador and a high-level White House staffer. He ran failed presidential campaigns in 1996, 2000 and 2008. He also ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate three times in two states. B+.

Pat Buchanan YouTube screenshot Georgia PolicyPat Buchanan is a longtime syndicated columnist, author and broadcast journalist. Because of this rich legacy of commenting on politics (and some work as an adviser to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford), Buchanan decided he was qualified to run for president in 1992 and 1996. He had never held any office before his run. The 1992 run was unique because Buchanan, running as a Republican, ran as a challenger to incumbent Republican president George Bush. In 1996, Buchanan managed to win the Republican primary in New Hampshire. He also ran as the Reform Party’s presidential candidate in 2000. While Buchanan’s presidential ambitions did not enhance his journalism career, they didn’t destroy it, either. Essentially, he traded a job at CNN for a job at MSNBC. B.

Somehow, televangelist Pat Robertson is still around as the host of The 700 Club, the flagship television program of the Christian Broadcasting Network and a show that has been on so long it seems to have predated television. Right now, at The 700 Club website, you can access recipes for “Gluten-Free South Beach Treats” and learn all about chia seeds (a “superfood,” apparently) — but only if you log in with an email address. Given the immense size of The 700 Club empire before and after Robertson ran for president as a Republican in 1988, he almost certainly did not need a presidential bid to advance his career. It’s certainly worth noting his impressive second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, ahead of Bush, though. Less impressive was Robertson’s prediction that God’s Judgment Day would arrive in the fall of 1982. B.

Herman Cain Creative Commons Gage SkidmoreEvery Republican presidential sweepstakes needs a business mogul with no government experience. In 2012, former restaurant business CEO Herman Cain served in the role, even briefly becoming the flavor of the week among voters. (Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich also carried this mantle.) Cain ran failed campaigns for president in 2000 and for the U.S. Senate in Georgia in 2004. His 2012 presidential bid was done in by allegations of sexual harassment. B-.

Ben Carson public domainYou have to pity Ben Carson. He was supposed to be this year’s guy from a totally different professional environment — in Carson’s case, neurosurgery — who was going to become president and somehow solve problems actual politicians spent their lives trying to solve. Sadly, Carson’s attempt to run as a thoughtful political novice has been blown out of the water by Trump, a less-thoughtful political novice with more money and better connections. C+.

What starry-eyed libertarian lover of low taxes and less government could ever forget Steve Forbes? The scion of wealth and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine entered the Republican presidential frays in 1996 and 2000. His main goal was to institute a flat income tax. Sadly, for starry-eyed libertarians everywhere, he lost both times and the United States definitely does not have a flat income tax. C.

Gary Baeur Creative Commons Craig MichaudIf you don’t remember Gary Bauer, that’s okay. Few other people do, either. Bauer, a one-time Reagan administration staffer, was president of the Family Research Council from 1988 to 1999. He ran for president as a Republican in 2000. He also had significant experience as a Republican campaign operative, but he had never held any electoral office. Bauer managed over eight percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses but received less than one percent of the New Hampshire primary vote. He then faded away. D.

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(Photos: Getty Images/David Becker, Getty Images/Wire Image/Djamilla Rosa Cochran, Getty Images, Tim Sloan, Getty Images/Bill Pierce, YouTube screenshot/CBS News, Getty Images/Michael Smith, YouTube screenshot/Querard, YouTube screenshot/Georgia Policy, Getty Images/Cynthia Johnson, Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore, public domain, Getty Images/ Robert Lachman, G Creative Commons/Craig Michaud)