Last week, America collectively obsessed over the story of Brady Olson, a 15-year-old Iowa farm boy better known by his political alter ego, independent presidential candidate Deez Nuts. Shortly after Olson/Deez-Nuts filed to run on July 26—highlighting the unverified simplicity of the Federal Election Commission's candidacy declaration Form 2—he convinced Public Policy Polling, a serious but also game-as-fuck firm, to include him in their 2016 voter surveys.
It was a joke, highlighting the absurd array of actual presidential candidates running this year. But then he started climbing the polls. Last week, a PPP poll showed "Deez Nuts" with 9 percent support among North Carolina voters, building on his 8 percent in Iowa and 7 percent in Minnesota. By Friday, Deez Nuts had gone viral, a heroic symbol of voter frustration with the steamy cesspool of American politics.
Before you start casting Deez Nuts as some kind of teenage version of Howard Beale in the first act of The Network, it's worth remembering that he falls into a long line of absurdist candidates who "run for president" as an act of political performance art, or simply for their own amusement. In fact, Olson has cited as his inspiration Limberbutt McCubbins, a five-year-old cat from Kentucky that garnered media attention (and a Jezebel endorsement) this spring after two bored and blasé high school students registered him in the Democratic presidential primary.
To date, 768 people have declared their presidential candidacies in 2016. The list includes Bailey D Dog, Buddy the Cat, Buddy the Elf, Crawfish Crawfish, Jack Sparrow, Princess Oawlawolwaol, and Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks—not to mention perennial stunt candidates like Vermin Supreme and His Royal Majesty Caesar Saint Augustine de Bounaparte of the United States of Turtle Island, who festively throw their hats in the ring every year. There's also Pogo Mochello Allen-Reese, a Republican hopeful who wants to end obesity with club dancing; D.R. Skeens, a member of the uncontactable Hedonistic Existentialist Party; and Robert "R3DN3CK" Allen MacLeod, Jr., who goes by the troubling moniker"New White Candidate."
About 60 percent of the 2016 hopefuls aren't registered with any well-known party. Some have made up their own groups, like the almost-legitimate-sounding Peace and Freedom Party, the American Party, or the United Party. Most don't have websites or campaign literature. And most of them won't get the attention of a single voter.
Together, this army of windmill-tilters underscores the general chaos of the American political system. But every 50 names or so, there's a candidate like Deez Nuts who stands out by mixing their absurdity with a surprising amount of substance—a candidate weird enough to draw attention but also earnest enough to hold it, drawing you deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of heartfelt, if bizarre, convictions. Below is a roundup of the best such candidates:
Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party
A pop techno-philosopher and volcano boarder, Zoltan Istvan is the founder and 2016 presidential candidate for the Transhumanist Party, a techno-futurist movement whose No. 1 aim is to "overcome human death and aging within 15-20 years." In other words, Zoltan Istvan is a Marvel villain. Just look at him:
After building a following with his novel The Transhumanist Wager—a sort-of Silicon Valley version of Atlas Shrugged—Istvan decided that the best way to turn America into a techno-utopia was to get into politics. His campaign is basically an extension of his novel, focused on attaining immortality through biological advancement and mind uploading.
But what makes the Transhumanist Party platform so surreal is that all that lofty futurism is combined with more mundane political concerns: First, ensure that all citizens have the morphological freedom to cyber-alter their own bodies as they choose; then institute a flat tax. Create national initiatives to tackle the threats of artificial intelligence, asteroids, and plagues; then create a federal mandate for free preschools nationwide
Jim Hedges, Prohibitionist Party
Yes, Prohibitionists still exist in the 21st century—although just barely, by the looks of their latest party newsletter. Hedges, a former Pennsylvania tax assessor, is the only member to have been elected to public office since 1959. He was named the Prohibitionist 2016 presidential nominee on a conference call this summer, after the party's quadrennial convention was cancelled because, according to the newsletter, "several Party regulars who would normally attend are on the sick list."
As you may have guessed, Hedges' No. 1 priority is reinstituting a nationwide ban on alcohol. Because while America's brief experiment with temperance is now widely seen as a failure, Hedges and his party aren't buying it. Actually, they believe it was a tremendous success, quashing some of the country's deep-seated social ailments by depriving Americans of the demon booze that was driving them to sin. Beyond the alcohol issue, the party's platform is basically just a more fundamentalist version of GOP talking points, calling for a balanced budget and an end to things like foreign aid, public-sector labor unions, and the Federal Reserve.
For a party that has been sputtering out since Congress passed the 21 st Amendment, the Prohibitionists have been remarkably resilient—a historical relic that speaks to both the futility and hope of challenging the two-party system in America. And Hedges, who rules the party with an iron fist, exudes a calm sobriety that borders on hyponotic. Actually, he identifies himself with Jimmy Carter—which seems like an odd choice at first, until you remember that Carter was a famous teetotaler.
W. Knox Richardson, Helluva Party
The brainchild of Las Vegas standup comedian and "PR idea man" W. Knox Richardson, the Helluva Party, a Nevada-based LLC, claims to be America's first for-profit political party. A simplistic commentary on the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision and the corporatization of American politics, the Helluva Party seems more like a PR joke than an actual third-party protest.
But sometimes, ever so quietly, the Helluva Party—which is basically just Richardson and his "running mate," a Santa Cruz musician named Richard Karst—breaks its pro forma "whatever" stance on policy with what sound like genuine and earnest issue proposals. A detailed case for an asset-backed currency system, for example, or a complex plan for capping university tuition using mandates for the use of federal education funding. It's a sign that there maybe there's something more to Richardson than bumper stickers about Guam and insensitive tweets about Caitlin Jenner. Then again, maybe there's not. And maybe that's the point.
Roland Durphy Menard III, Independent
While there is nothing outwardly surprising about Roland Durphy Menard III—an independent presidential candidate apparently based in Portland, Oregon—his campaign is fascinating in its sweeping approach to the hodgepodge of crazy that fills the fringes of American politics. His website, a Blogspot site called "Concrete Steps" that looks a bit like the homepage for a bible study group, consists of one very long text block describing Maynard's "Moderation Affiliation"—"an affiliation of Democrats, Independents and Republicans who utilize the adjunct precept of all parties"—and laying out his plans for the country.
Basically, it's a lot of words—inconsistent and imperceptibly ordered policy proposals sprinkled with "My Country 'Tis of Thee" lyrics and progressively blatant references to Menard's divine mission to restore religious integrity and spirituality to the nation. But while Menard is a kook, he's so genuine and detailed, yet so sprawling and half-logical, that he makes you want to break out the string and go all John Nash on his platform.
David 'Da Vid' Raphael, The Light Party
David Raphael—who prefers to go by the hilarious nickname Da Vid—is a New Age musician and director the Global Peace Foundation, a nonprofit that is trying to convert Alcatraz into a "Jewel of Light." So naturally Da Vid is holding down the 2016 presidential race for The Light Party, a utopian spiritual-environmental group with a very broad seven-point plan laid out in crystal form.
Posted on a website looks like it was designed by small-town pagans in the early 2000s, the Light Party platform reads like the community bulletin board of a natural foods store: decriminalization of drugs, nuclear disarmament, GMO bans, campaign finance reform. But while The Light Party may be overshadowed by the Bernie Sanders boom this cycle, its members also take the whole bleeding-heart, San Francisco liberal thing to another level.
Under a Light Party administration, for example, the money collected from those green taxes would be used to pay for the creation of something called The Gaia/Solaris Consortium, an "Inter-National Corporation" aimed at creating a "Sustainable Global Solar Hydrogen/Hemp Based Economy." Da Vid, if elected president, would launch his own television station, "the Artainment Global Family Television Network," with continuous transcendental programming to "heal and enlighten" America.
Donald C. Sauter, Independent
While officially listed as an independent, Donald Sauter is actually running for president as a Unarchist, a term he came up with himself. As you might expect from the leader of an imaginary movement, Sauter has lots of ideas about democracy and whatnot. For instance, he would like to eliminate the entire US judiciary—including the lawyers—and allow "truly representative juries" to hear cases presented by individuals, assigning guilt and punishments by simple majority voting. He also doesn't like mass surveillance, which makes sense.
But Sauter isn't just another raging libertarian. His website also includes strategies and complex rules for Scrabble, guitar tabs, plus commentary on his favorite board games, his mother (whom he loves), and UFO sightings. Spend enough time there, and you come to see Sauter as a genuine, kind-hearted middle-aged man, full of goodwill that he believes the world will reciprocate. And you feel sad that he is trying to throw himself into the dark abyss of the political system.
Scott Allen Meek Stephens, Independent
Billing himself as "your vocal weapon of choice" for the 2016 elections, Scott Allen Meek Stephens has a car salesman's poise and web design, but not much of a platform to speak of—just a promise to "amend" virtually every major American social injustice, and lots of pride in his Native American-Irish heritage. (Although his website also has some dubious references to secret HIV/AIDS and cancer cures, but I refuse to go down that rabbit hole.)
But Stephens does have one serious belief: in the power of hemp. It's hard to follow his reasoning, but somehow Stephens believes that hemp will be the silver bullet that will get the American, nay the global, economy back on track. It's a wonderfully odd single-issue campaign that gives you an idea of what kind of crazy those other 700-plus candidates might be selling.
Tami Stainfield, No Party
One of those perennial independent candidates, Stainfield has gotten an unusual amount of media attention for her dark-horse bids for president (and US Senate in 2014), including mock mashups of her YouTube videos. And with her vague references to possible conspiracies, selective quotation of the founding fathers, and penchant for speaking in tongues, Stainfield is basically a human highlight reel of right-wing politics. But her eclectic and half-composed streams of thought also perfectly encapsulate America's stranger political impulses. She also apparently shares our national impulse to run from—and scream expletives at—cops.
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