Whether it's because of admirable perseverance or sheer stubbornness, the current batch of Republican presidential candidates never say die. Not even a feeding frenzy of epic proportions can drive them out of the race, as we've seen in the past week with Rick Perry and Herman Cain. What might have been natural exit points for politicians in the past--developments that were unsettling, embarrassing, or worse--have had little or no effect.
There has been one major dropout: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota withdrew in August after his campaign failed to catch fire. And former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey considered running but decided not to.
But the field has remained full despite setbacks for one candidate after another and all are still competing in the key early-voting states including Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman addressed the exit issue Sunday on "Face the Nation" when he said, "The political junkies [are] all saying, 'You know, how come this thing hasn't solidified? But I think for the most part, people are just beginning to tune in. And that's why I like our chances."
Political professionals say that what actually drives people to quit includes a severe lack of money and a lack of delegates once the actual voting begins. The early states don't hold their caucuses and primaries until January, Another reason for staying in the race this time around is that the candidates can continue to receive free publicity by participating in debates such as Saturday's forum in South Carolina. The event didn't generate much news but it did keep keep the presidential wannabes in the public eye. In addition, many of their core supporters encourage them through thick and thin, as is happening with Cain and Perry. Still another reason is that they believe staying in the race will get them more notoreity and the likelihood of bigger speaking fees, book contracts, and television gigs in the future. And there is the desire to maintain the excitement of the campaign as long as possible.
Perhaps all this goes back to Bill Clinton, who endured humiliation amid accusations of sexual improprieties (some of which turned out to be true) both when he was a candidate and when he was in the White House. But Clinton never gave up or gave in.
Rick Perry seems to be on the same path, for entirely different reasons. The Texas governor endured public humiliation during last week's Republican presidential debate in Michigan when he couldn't remember one of the three federal departments that he has promised to abolish--the Energy Department--raising questions about his intelligence, his ability to handle pressure, and whether he understands the positions he is taking or only recites talking points given to him by his staff.
The day after his gaffe, Perry was in good humor and back on the campaign trail. He gave several TV interviews, saying the flub showed that he is "like most Americans" and forgets things, not that he is incapable of being commander in chief. Perry showed grit and people like that. It's unlikely that he will be the Republican nominee but his handling of the episode demonstrated perseverance and fortitude.
Another candidate who has showed determination is businessman Herman Cain. Accused of sexual harassment or sexual misbehavior by at least four women, he has denied any impropriety and pursued his campaign with vigor. He is still in the top tier of Republican preference in opinion polls.
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now showing some life in the polls after a miserable start to his campaign which featured the departure of key staffers who were disppointed in his performance. There were also embarrassing stories about his and his wife's profligate spending habits.
Finally, there are the other candidates who are still campaigning despite lagging in opinion surveys as they chase former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, generally regarded as the front runner. They include Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and former Govs. Huntsman and Gary Johnson of New Mexico. It may not be realistic, but their staying in the race is a testament to the power of hope, misplaced though it may be.