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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 Twitter: @BruellAlex

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