On Monday, Lawrence Lessig announced that he had finally figured out the answer to the question, If a presidential candidates yells about the need for campaign-finance reform in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it influence the race?
The answer is no.
As a result, the campaign-finance-reform activist and professor has decided to get out of the 2016 Democratic primary.
Lessig’s campaign platform had one bullet point: He wanted to get elected so he could pass the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, a law that would change campaign finance, expand voter protections, and change how voting districts are drawn. Once that law — an ambitious and enormous undertaking that no recent president would have been able to pass in eight years — had been signed, Lessig would resign and let his vice-president take the reins. He later dropped the resigning bit, after realizing that people weren’t interested in electing someone who was already planning to quit.
It was a strategy of such idealistic Rube Goldbergian proportions that the cast of The West Wing would have probably laughed at it — and many of the ideas Lessig was espousing have already been embraced by his higher-polling rivals. When asked about Bernie Sanders’s campaign-finance reform credentials on Reddit in August, Lessig said, “Sanders is great, but he is running a campaign to win, not to govern.” He did not explain how a campaign to govern, but never win, was superior — or how a candidate who only cared about one issue could ever collect enough voters, all with very different ideas of what the government needs to prioritize and balance, or could ever get above 1 percent in the polls.
Lessig did manage to raise a good chunk of change — as he did during the 2014 midterms for his anti-super-PACs Mayday PAC. However, he still hasn’t figured out how to turn his support among tech types and campaign-finance reformers into something that translates well to the general populace.
He blamed his campaign’s failure on the Democratic National Committee, which changed debate rules in a way that would have required Lessig to have reached 1 percent in the polls weeks and weeks ago, instead of more recently, to participate in the debates — and his absence ensured that Lessig’s name recognition will remain very low.
“I may be known in tiny corners in the tubes of the Internet,” Lessig said. “But I am not well known to the general public generally. Our only chance to make this issue central to the 2016 presidential election was to be in those debates … And under the new rule, unless we can time travel, there is no way that I will qualify.”
Since he is dropping out, it seems likely that Lessig can not time travel – a detail that could have done wonders for the attractiveness of his campaign, and could have perhaps led to a moment at a future Democratic debate where the candidates were asked about killing baby Hitler.
When he first announced he was thinking of running, Lessig thought it would be easy to reach the 1 percent threshold to qualify for an introduction to the American people. “That one percent of America has watched my Ted Talks,” he explained.
There will only be three Democratic candidates left on stage at the next debate – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley.