As the presidential nominating season finally begins, it’s a good time to remember the failed candidates who ditched Iowa before the caucuses.
By my count, 16 Democrats and one Republican started and then ended their 2020 presidential campaigns before any votes were cast in this election cycle. They are ghosts of the Iowa caucuses — gone, but perhaps a few of their ideas will be remembered.
After following the campaigns for more than a year, I pulled together a list of some of the best and most interesting ideas from our fleet of presidential rejects.
As a Republican onlooker of the Democratic contest, I found something nice to say about all of them — almost.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker challenged Democratic Party orthodoxy on public education. Charter schools — public entities that promote limited school choice through alternative curricula — are fiercely opposed by influential teachers unions, but Booker defended their record in his hometown of Newark.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock made a mark by calling out his party’s “wish-list economics.” He criticized opposing candidates for pitching plans that are too expensive and politically unpopular to be implemented, such as Medicare for All, which he opposes.
Julian Castro, former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was not unique in his support for a fairer and freer immigration system. But he did have a uniquely interesting perspective, as a grandchild of immigrants and a politician who actively sought input from people living in the United States illegally.
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a vocal proponent of finding alternatives to incarceration, with an understanding that the existing prison system does not promote public safety. While some of his ideas have been criticized in New York as poorly planned, de Blasio helped elevate the issue of over-incarceration to a national audience.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is one of Congress’ most consistent advocates of ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. A rarity in American politics, Gillibrand has opposed the wars even when members of her own party were in control of government.
Mike Gravel, former U.S. senator from Alaska, ran a stunt campaign meant to bring attention to the grave costs and terrible results of America’s overseas military adventures. His short-lived campaign slogan was “End the American empire.”
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was widely criticized for tough-on-crime stances she took earlier in her career as a prosecutor. However, she redeemed herself at least slightly by supporting marijuana legalization and committing to expunge the records of some drug crime convicts.
John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado and a brewing entrepreneur, presented himself as a staunchly pro-business politician in a business-skeptical Democratic Party. His work as governor to reduce regulatory barriers to business is seen as a model for other states to replicate.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee focused his campaign on climate change, but he also had laudable positions on criminal justice reform. His statewide Marijuana Justice Initiative is offering pardons to people convicted of marijuana possession.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton may be the least memorable of the 2020 field, but he took an admirable stand in favor of abolishing the death penalty nationally.
Beto O’Rourke, former congressman from Texas, criticized far-left Democrats and President Donald Trump on international trade. O’Rourke opposes retaliatory tariffs and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
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U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan made important contributions to the criminal justice reform discourse. He has sponsored legislation in the U.S. House to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes, which he hopes would curb the unconscionably large prison population.
Joe Sestak, former congressman from Pennsylvania, did not even have a campaign website, according to my research. However, as a member of the U.S. House, he was a firm supporter of fiscal restraint and the use of the pay-as-you-go model for federal spending.
Marianne Williamson, an author and activist, had a lot of weird things to say. I was intrigued by her discussion of the need to transition to a “peacetime economy” and preempt the negative economic impacts of reduced military spending.
Mark Sanford, a former U.S. representative and governor of South Carolina, is the only Republican on this list. His brief campaign emphasized the need to address the $23 trillion (and growing) national debt, and especially the interest payments on the debt that will claim an increasingly large share of federal spending.
Lastly, California U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell dedicated his campaign to the dangerous idea of confiscating peaceful Americans’ legally obtained firearms. He has no good ideas, or redeeming qualities, for public policies. The best decision he made during his brief presidential campaign was to drop out.
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