Pete Buttigeig, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren each suspended their presidential campaigns this week, following more than a dozen Democrats before them. While pundits waxed on about how their decisions changed the race and affected Super Tuesday, I just keep thinking about it impacted each of them, and how hard it is to give up on a dream.
This isn’t a statement on their politics or whether they would have been a good nominee or president. This is a human story to which I believe we can all relate.
We have all had aspirations: some great business idea, a relationship we just know will work out, or just a vision of our own future we believe is our destiny. We have believed those dreams could be real.
And we’ve all had some dream slip away, leaving us unsure of where we stand, wondering if we wasted our time and what we did wrong.
That other life wasn’t just a distant aspiration. It was a north star that drove decisions and priorities and informed how people think about us and even how we think about ourselves. When it’s gone, what’s left?
I believe we’ve all gone through this and the uncertainty that follows at some point, in some way. Though probably not while in the national spotlight, with tens of thousands of supporters and countless staff looking up, expecting us to keep the dream alive.
In some ways, it’s almost easier if some external factor calls the question or makes the decision. It is undoubtedly painful for a candidate to run for office and ultimately have voters choose someone else. The loss is intensely personal. A crowd of people rejected you.
But at least with a loss at the ballot box, the decision is made and there isn’t anything at that point you can do about it.
Pulling the plug oneself might be even harder. Any of the candidates who recently dropped out of the race could have stayed in. No doubt they heard that same cruelly optimistic voice we all hear urging us on.
“Just try one more thing and maybe it’ll work!”
“Anything is possible, so long as you don’t close the door.”
“Miracles do happen, why not you, why not now?”
Each of these candidates had to take a pillow and put it over that voice until it lie quiet and still. They had to kill the hope that had been fueling and guiding them for years. And they had to do it largely alone.
Admitting “I am not going to be the person I thought I was,” is like swallowing a milk jug of nails. It leaves you reeling, unsure where you stand or where to go next.
Many will say that people who run for president are different, that they knew what they were getting into, or that of all people in this world they are least in need of anyone’s empathy right now.
Maybe so. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t hurt, that they don’t feel broken and unsteady and lost right now.
They may appear to be mere projections on a screen and fodder for our offhanded social media musings, which we all know can be thoughtlessly cruel. The reality is that they’re human, and they deserve to be treated as such.
And the nice thing about empathy is that it isn’t a finite resource that we can only divvy out in small batches for special occasions.
I’ve had to give up on dreams before. I know how that hurts. I imagine it only feels bigger and harder on a scale like seeking the presidency. So among all the strategizing and delegate counting, I am feeling for those candidates who ended their campaigns this week, the staff and supporters who were there with them. Not as pieces on a political chess board, but as people that made possibly the hardest decision of their lives this week.