Poll after poll finds that voters are hugely dissatisfied with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, leading them to wonder if it’s worth voting at all this fall. However, while it’s never acknowledged in the 24-hour news cycle, there are plenty of alternative candidates to consider. Which is what inspired veteran journalist Craig Tomashoff to hit the road in search of unknown office seekers who might earn his vote.
Last spring, a year and a half before the 2016 election, Tomashoff drove 10,000 miles across America to meet with some of the more than 1,600 people who have filed their paperwork to run for president. What he found was far more than he bargained for, a surprising and inspiring insight into what it means to be an American. The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name is the chronicle of that electoral adventure.
Instead of writing these “citizen candidates” off as loonies, Tomashoff spent time learning why they’d willingly take on a task that will cost them their friends, family and finances with zero possibility of success. Their reasons were always more personal than presidential, and The Can’t-idates is a fascinating study of this motley crew of American originals. It’s also the story of a writer whose life changed as he discovered how people really feel about the current presidential race.
From the Las Vegas strip to a Boise biker bar to the tick-filled woods of Arkansas to the gritty streets of Cleveland, Tomashoff met with a fascinating and often funny collection of people. Nobody in The Can’t-iidates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name will ever be our Chief Executive. However, as Tomashoff shows his readers, that’s not the point. Rather, the point is to get out there and do something you believe in even when nobody else does. As is the case with our presidential choices, there are always more options out there than we realize.
"Tomashoff wants to be respectful and kind to all the people he meets, and I admire that. He’s honest and he also looks for the good in these people. They may have failed the bar, or lost a business, or have a rap sheet, or be semi-illiterate, or have nearly insurmountable problems, but he sees and writes about what makes each of them admirable as well.
"And that works, because Tomashoff is thoughtful, and a good writer. The book is as much a road trip memoir (he drove over 10,000 miles!) as it is a book about fringe presidential candidates. Tomashoff writes candidly about his own life experiences and his inspiration for the trip — he wanted “To show my son (and anyone else who’d pay attention) that you should listen to your own life.” His son was about to graduate from high school and Tomashoff hoped this project would help him learn about trying something other people thought was crazy, and finding happiness anyway...."
"This book is entertaining and poignant. Craig ties some of his own personal experiences in with the stories of this can’t-idates. They are a true group. True people, with very real lives and experiences that not only would qualify them in some instances, but would also disqualify them in other instances (but are wildly hilarious). There are so many moments of humor and poignancy while he drives from one can’t-diate to another, you can’t help but keep reading and wondering why some of these wonderful people aren’t in the highest office in our land, instead of some of the mimbos and dumbos who have graced the office. That’s the beauty of the book. While we’re subjected to debates where the size of the maybe nominees discussing who has the bigger donut hole, we could be reading about someone who really gives a rat’s ass about this."
The Can't-Idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name
by Craig Tomashoff (Goodreads Author)
Liz Alexander's review
Apr 01, 16
Coming from a country that once boasted a political candidate with the name Screaming Lord Sutch (founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party), I was immediately drawn to this book. Not least to discover that over 1,4000 ordinary citizens are running for POTUS in the current presidential race. A topic made all the more timely, given the rise of Donald Trump whom many appear to believe represents the views and values of average Americans.
Craig Tomashoff, a self-described lover of stories, has written a wonderful series of eye-opening tales. Deftly crafted and beautifully written as befits a former executive editor of TV Guide and a journalist whose contributions have graced the Boston Globe and Rolling Stone. He drove 10,000 miles (and thanks the AARP in the acknowledgements for the discounts he was able to accrue!) to interview 15 "Can't-idates." Those seemingly crazy people who even think it's possible in this "land of the free" to become president "when nobody knows your name."
From the moment I began the Introduction (read it: it's compelling, clever and cutting in its assessments of the political process in the U.S. today), this book was a page turner AND a tear-jerker. Where these everyday Americans mirror the current batch of presidential candidates is that few of them seem to have any clear agenda--as in concisely stated, realistic policies--for actually changing things. Where they differ greatly is that none of the Can't-idates have the kind of money needed to make even a minor a dent in the U.S. political universe.
But this isn't a book entirely focused on politics. What Mr. Tomashoff wisely realized was that it's the "extraordinary personal stories that set them on their political path" that make this book such a compelling read. From Doug Shreffler, who allegedly did something he cannot talk about for the CIA and is convinced "everyone in his hometown was a government agent there to protect him," to Ronald Satish Emrit, a man who failed the bar four times yet that isn't stopping him suing over 100 entities including the Social Services Administration, Medicare and the Archdiocese of Miami. And who accuses the Federal Election Commission of not accommodating his depression.
Then there's the wonderfully named Sydneys Voluptuous Buttocks who may not even exist, given that the author never actually got to meet her, just the two-man "committee" who so named her. (And I assume are responsible for the missing apostraphe, rather than this being an oversight on the part of the book's editor?) Because "Politicians are assholes. So we thought it'd be funny to run a campaign about somebody's actual ass."
It's not simply that these citizens haven't a snowball's chance in hell of actually becoming POTUS that's at issue here--and saddened me most--it's the fact that none is likely to even influence policy a tiny bit. That at least occurred in the U.K. where some of the "loony ideas" of Lord Sutch's party eventually got entered into British law, despite his party never winning a single seat (example: passports for pets (2001), saves pooches having to go into quarantine for long periods).
I got the impression this book was a rite of passage as much for the author as it was for the people he interviewed. Mr. Tomashoff deftly weaves in the soul-wrenching with the highly amusing as he intersperses each essay with anecdotes related to his own life. ("When it comes to Father of the Year voting, I rank somewhere between Darth Vader and Homer Simpson.") The author is a stunning writer who had me laughing out loud (no mean feat with a book!) at his self-depracating quips, but also had me weeping in places. This was especially true in the chapter dedicated to Luis Ramos. This is a man to whom life continues to rain down one misfortune after another and who left school at 21 with a D+ GPA. Yet is as innocently and wonderfully positive as Forrest Gump. If only members of Congress would take note of an ordinary guy pointing out that, "People have to stop playing the blame game and start working with each other as a team..."
I only have two beefs about this book--not enough for it to warrant anything less than 5 stars, however. First, twelve candidates would have been enough for me. It's a quick and easy read, but by the time I got to Lori Fleming's story I felt I was reading more of the same. And second, while I love the engaging and smart title, The Can't-idates--and this is the best possible description of its content--I wish the book could have been called the Can Do-idates. How else to describe the spirit of ordinary folks that dream of serving their country? Despite the mixed support of friends and family and even a companion who (not unreasonably) asked, "Who wants that job?"
Still, overall the book reminded me of the part of JFK's inaugural address where he says, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." In the case of the Can't-idates, there seemed to be a bit of both. While it was impressive how committed each appeared to be at serving their country by running for the highest office in the land, I was left with the impression that the goal they'd set themselves was giving each of them a new lease of life. Helping them deal with the not-inconsiderable baggage of their lives by making them happier, less insecure and more engaged with life.
Thank you, Mr. Tomashoff...I swear that if your name were David Sedaris, you'd be on the New York Times bestseller list by now!
"No, the title doesn't refer to the current crop of presidential hopefuls...but to the 1,000-plus people we never hear about who throw their hats into the ring every election. Who are they? Fun."
Book review: ‘The Can’t-idates,’ Craig Tomashoff
Alex Bruell | Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:00 am
With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees for president in 2016, many Americans feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. From their curated Instagram feeds to their Hispanic-loving taco bowls, many voters feel that establishment candidates are woefully out of touch with the lives of real Americans.
If you’re looking for a real, down to Earth candidate, though, fear no longer: In his book “The Can’t-idates,” Craig Tomashoff gives you 15 of them.
“The Can’t-idates: Running For President when Nobody Knows Your Name” chronicles the 10,000 mile journey Tomashoff took over just 21 days to interview a menagerie of presidential hopefuls. Each of the 15 he spoke to stands virtually no chance of coming close to winning; they are average, (somewhat) normal citizens who work in factories and offices, self-funding their campaigns and relying on word of mouth and social media to spread their message.
Each “Can’t-idate” was wildly different from the next. Doug Shreffler claims to be an ex-CIA agent, delivering sensitive information to powerful politicians and playing bass for huge rock bands under fake names. Pamela Pinkney Butts faces skepticism from both her daughter and mother in a bid for the White House that came from her passionate but tender heart. And Vermin Supreme, legendary political performance artist and zombie apocalypse awareness advocate, just wants people to realize they always have a choice beyond “bad” and “terrible.”
Tomashoff’s journey gives the reader an intimate view into the lives of these people who sincerely believe they have a chance at becoming president. As he points out in the beginning of the book, we tell our kids that, “any of them, no matter where they came from, can one day become President of the United States,” even though we know it’s not true.
Presidential candidates spend millions of dollars on their campaigns, relying on their celebrity status and deep pockets to drum up enough support to be nominated. Most ordinary people just don’t stand a chance.
Each person Tomashoff talked to, however, sincerely believes they can be the next leader of the United States, or at least had a strong fan base that wanted them to be. In his conversations, he revealed the real, naked reasons many of them ran.
Ronald Emrit, a drifter who went from job to job after a traumatic injury at his college fraternity, claims that running for president was a way for him to get famous so he could start building a career in Hollywood. While talking, Emrit began to divulge that what occupies his thoughts was really his failed marriage and loss of relationship with his daugher. Emrit believes that if he becomes president, he might finally be able to gain custody of his daughter; she could even come visit him at the White House.
While the journey is ostensibly about the candidates and their stories, “The Can’t-idates” is a surprisingly personal and vulnerable novel, filled with Tomashoff’s own musings about the challenges of parenthood and doing your best to raise a child when you don’t have all the answers. Tomashoff freely admits that he sees a little bit of himself in many of the candidates he talks to; like him, these are passionate, independent thinkers, daring to undergo a project seemingly guaranteed to fail. If doing something crazy makes us happy, Tomashoff asks, is it really crazy at all?
The verdict: Intimate, enlightening, and sharply funny, “The Can’t-idates” is a fascinating look at the other side of the American political process and a much-needed source of relief from the stress-inducing 2016 presidential election cycle.
Reach writer Alex Bruell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @BruellAlex
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might be the respective front-runners of the Democrats and Republicans but there are others in the race who hope to get some name recognition. Many others.
And we’re not talking about Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz.
A new book — called “The Can’t-idates,: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name”” (Bobtimystic Books) looks at scores of other people who are hoping to become your next commander-in-chief.
Author Craig Tomashoff — a Los-Angeles-based former associate bureau chief for both PEOPLE Magazine and executive editor of TV Guide — drove thousands of miles and interviewed the various hopefuls. CBSLA.com recently asked him about where the idea for the book came from — and if these hopefuls are serious about their races or, just seriously crazy.
Q&A&L with Craig Tomashoff
Alex Bruell | Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 12:00 am
Author Craig Tomashoff answers questions at a reading of his book "The Can't-dates" at Third Place Books in Ravenna. His book is an account of average American citizens who are running for President of the United States.
When Craig Tomashoff first pitched his book, a story about the everyday people who run for president and never win, publishers laughed, asked if he was serious, and then laughed harder.
The UW journalism alumnus was determined, however, and his book “The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name,” a story born out of a 10,000 mile, month-long roadtrip was realized.
The 15 presidential hopefuls Tomashoff spoke to didn’t have the millions of dollars or extensive campaign staff to launch TV ads or attack campaigns. Many of them could barely afford to print buttons and bumper stickers. While each “Can’t-idate” had their own reasons for running, from Vermin Supreme’s comical protest run against the establishment party system to Ronald Emrit’s desire to see his daughter again, each of the 15 people Tomashoff interviewed had one belief in common: You can do anything you set your mind to.
On May 5, Tomashoff spoke to a small crowd nestled in a cozy nook in the corner of Third Place Books Ravenna. He shared what the journey across America was like, and how it felt to listen to real people express their vision for the country, rather than the manufactured talking points we so often hear from the more successful politicians running for president. I sat down with Tomashoff to ask him some questions about what he learned from his journey.
Q: Did any of the candidates seem like they would actually make a good president?
A: There were very few that I could see running the country. There was Bart Lower from Ionia, Mich., who told me about how his very anti-abortion stance changed after learning about his wife’s experience having an abortion. He learned about drug addiction and abuse after his son was sent into treatment for heroin addiction. Every single problem we talk about fixing, this guy has experienced firsthand. Most politicians have never dealt with the kinds of problems we deal with, and this is a guy who’s smart and honest enough to try to solve them.
Q: What does it say about our political system that Donald Trump is the Republican nominee?
A: I pin it on the media more than anything else. It’s not that hard to open things up so that everyone who wants to run gets a voice. CNN could just open a webpage with every candidate and a 100-word blurb about what they want to do, just to get their voices out there. These people may not ever win, but they can have ideas that catch on. The way it is now, though, we only hear the perspectives of two or three people.
Q: How many of the people are there in your book who haven’t given up yet?
A: Most of them were always intending to just be a write-in candidate. That’s where the system is really rigged, with the two parties and conventions. They’ll always run. They’re not campaigns in the way we usually think of them; they’re going to knock on doors, show up at town hall meetings, and print stickers on their doors. There’s no more reason for them to quit now than there was a year ago.
Q: Should we vote with our conscience and support candidates who we know probably won’t win, or support for the lesser of two evils that the Democrats and Republicans put forward?
A: If you really want to change the way things are done, you should vote your conscience every time. You’ll suffer for it the first two or three elections, but if everyone starts doing that and becoming comfortable with it, it’ll force the politicians to play a different game. I can understand the #BernieOrBust movement; there’s a reason people don’t like Hillary, and she’s got to address it. Simply disliking the other guy isn’t enough of a reason to vote for her, and I can see why people just want to sit on the sidelines. But I would urge everybody to keep an open mind — you can’t just check out of the process just because your candidate lost. I think it’s great that young people are voting and coming out for Bernie, but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it then you’re very misinformed on what this is all about. You’re supposed to try to change the process; you can’t just say “My guy didn’t win, so I’m going home.” You got involved for a reason; you liked what he was saying and trying to do, so why not continue fighting for those things?
Q: Your book was surprisingly personal and intimate at times. What did you take away from the journey?
A: I was just so fascinated by these people. We were similar in that both I and the candidates were going after our dreams despite being told how stupid those dreams were. As I went through, I realized the reason I wanted to do the book was the exact same reason these people wanted to run for president. They just wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it. Reverend Butts was a great example — all she wanted was someone to listen to her. In a strange way, I think these people are much more in tune with themselves than we are. They’re not afraid to go and do something nuts.
Reach writer Alex Bruell at email@example.com. Twitter: @BruellAlex
We have a Trump, Clinton and Bush in the current presidential campaign and there's no doubt most everyone knows their names. But what if your name is Harley Brown of Boise, Idaho or you live in a shack in the Arkansas Ozarks? Chances are you ended up in a new book called "The Can't-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name."
University of Washington alum and 30-year journalist Craig Tomashoff became fascinated with the stories of Americans who make a go at the White House despite impossible odds.
"There's really only two things you need to have in order to run for President and that's be over 35 and have been born here and all you have to do to file is go to the Federal Election Commission website," Tomashoff said.
He spent a month last year traveling 10,000 miles to meet the "Can't-idates" who had filed at that time.
Many an American child has been encouraged to reach for the stars with their dreams, with comments from their parents and other loving adults such as, 'You can do anything you set your mind to,' or 'If you work hard, you could even be President of the United States!' While it's true that anyone meeting the three simple requirements can technically become a candidate for President of the United States, the truth is that a very few people actually have a chance at the job. And, if you're not one of these select few, chances are that everyone you know will question your sanity if you do submit your candidacy for Job #1.
However, people still do this, even when there is absolutely no chance that they will ever even become a viable candidate in the race to the White House, as Seattle Author Craig Tomashoff has shared in his new book, The Can't-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name. In a project lasting more than a year, Craig embarked on a journey to learn and offer some insight as to why dozens of rational people would spend tons of time and money doing something that almost nobody will respect them for.
He got the first inkling of an idea for this project several years ago, when he was working for an Australian talk show host and doing a piece on how weird America is. Hundreds of people file their candidacy paperwork with the FEC each presidential election season, and Craig found a vampire pro-wrestler to have on the show. "I liked the notion of people doing the impossible, while being told it’s impossible... Who wakes up in the morning and says, 'That’s for me!'?" he said.
Several years later, while working as a freelance journalist last February, Craig was inspired to revisit this mind-boggling phenomenon. "I wrote letters to all 193 people who had filled out their FEC paperwork by March 2015. In my note, I told each candidate I wanted to hear about them and their campaigns. I wanted to understand what motivates their candidacy and (provided they weren’t totally nuts) then share their views with as many readers as possible," he wrote in the introduction to The Can't-idates. Craig started getting responses immediately, and spent nearly a month of pre-interviews to find the candidates with the most intriguing stories who seemed not too terribly crazy.
After hours upon hours spent doing research and communicating with these individuals, Craig narrowed down his list to 15 candidates that he planned to visit and interview in person. In May 2015, he left on a road trip that would take him 10,000 miles in 21 days.
The stigma of 'crazy' associated with the impossibility of these candidates' campaigns affected Craig as well. "It didn’t dawn on me at first that it was silly, not until right before I left for the road trip and publishers and editors were turning me down flat," he said. "As I went, the impact of the stupidity hit me repeatedly… But, I had something in common with these people."
"There were lunatics, I talked to many of them. But they’re not all crazy," Craig said. It was important for him to spend lots of face-to-face time interviewing these candidates -- upwards of five hours in most cases -- to really get to the heart of why they were putting so much into such an impossible thing. "We all see people how they present, but if you spend time talking, you will drill down… There’s a deeper reason for running for president. They’re all trying to fill some kind of hole in their life."
Craig Tomashoff, photo courtesy of the author.
Over the 21 days of his trip, Craig spent his days either driving or interviewing candidates, and his nights in some motel, dining on Wendy's chicken salads and jotting down notes from his experiences that day. "I questioned it every hour," he says. There were long, rough days on the road, and then there was the budget. "I'd be looking at the credit card statement with no possibility of reward, because there was no publisher... But I'm glad I did it, ultimately."
After he returned from the road, he had the narrative and the interviews as a framework for the next step, the arduous process of editing everything into a viable manuscript. "I really had to force myself to not look back. That's the hardest writing challenge I’ve ever had; to not question what I’d done until the end," he said. It took four months before he had finished the first draft, and when he reached that point, he stopped. " I gave myself that great hour, when you first finish your book, and before you go back and revise. There’s that amazing hour where, you did it! Then I had to run to Kinko's and print it out on paper, because it’s not real until it’s on paper. I remember running in there and telling the Kinko's guys, 'I need one copy of this right away, it’s my first book!' They couldn’t have cared less."
The next step was the editing process, and Craig revised everything chapter by chapter, for about a week. "I didn’t obsess about it. When you become the editor versus the writer, it’s a totally different process, because you can look at it with the mindset, 'It’s not mine, it’s someone else’s and I’m editing it'," he says.
After sending the manuscript out to more publishers, only to receive more rejections, Craig realized that he would have to self-publish. In a stroke of luck, a connection from Craig's days at People Magazine was starting his own publishing company, and after taking a look at The Can't-idates, he saw the potential and they drew up a deal to work together to publish the book.
The Can't-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name was released at the end of February this year. None of the 15 candidates featured in the book have pulled back their paperwork for candidacy, so they're all technically still in the running, even if many of them are no longer actively campaigning. "Every single person just wants somebody to listen to them. That, I think, is why they were open to me... They were satisfied that at least someone paid attention. A lot of them had visions of using the internet as a way to campaign," Craig said.
He challenges other writers to do as he did, and write without going back to edit until the first draft is finished -- it was a major challenge for him, but one that was worth it. In addition, he thinks that all writers should "be a little more like the Can’t-idates in the book and do the crazy thing! Even though people say don’t do it, they’re going to try it because it means something to them. I did my crazy thing - do your crazy thing, whatever it is! Don’t listen to what the famous authors say... You never hear from a not-successful person, telling you how to do things. Don’t make it about being a success. Be happy being an unsuccessful author, because it’s the author part that means something."
The Can't-idates is on sale for $13 through the end of the month of May, and please remember to leave a review!