If you want to be president of the United States, it's generally advisable to do a great deal of winning. This year’s crop of hopefuls is so ambitious that it's nearly impossible to find a loser in the wild — or perhaps the definition of victory has been stretched so much that it is entirely unclear what winning even means anymore. Each candidate seems to be fighting lonely wars in imaginary lanes of diminishing size, defeating legions of opponents and expectations in a way that has left the election cycle with more winners than a kindergarten T-ball game.
That’s the beauty of America; the rules of engagement are so malleable that anyone can win something in a presidential election, because winning is whatever you say it means — at least until the person who is actually winning, piling up delegates while everyone else is busy beating expectations, is crowned the nominee. If Marco Rubio were to say that he would win Nevada if 10 women named Martha who love Diplo and frozen Pop-Tarts caucused for him, he would probably be deemed correct. If John Kasich were to think winning equals getting 100,000 people to sing his favorite Pearl Jam song in the style of Franciscan monks while setting fire to Jeb Bush’s Guaca Bowle, he is also right. If Jeb Bush were to say that getting one person in the entire state of South Carolina to say "I like Jeb" would equal a win, however, he would be wrong, because Jeb Bush can never win.
It is wonderful that so many candidates are winning this year, because as Donald Trump put it on Sunday, "When you win, it's beautiful."
Here is an easy yet complicated guide to how you, too, can win a presidential primary election.
Win By Making Third Place Best Place
Senator Marco Rubio is the Gretchen Wieners of the 2016 election — except he did make fetch happen. In this scenario, fetch = whatever synonym for winning best helps the Rubio campaign. In Iowa, he told supporters during a very upbeat victory speech, "So this is the moment they told us would never happen." He came in third — but many observers, especially those less than charmed by Trump, chimed in to bolster Rubio’s argument. Third place was the new first place.
In South Carolina, Rubio was still trying to spin the same magic after coming in fifth in New Hampshire. It somehow worked — at one point on Saturday night, a CNN chyron reportedly read, "SOURCE: RUBIO CAMP SAYS THIRD PLACE WOULD BE A 'VICTORY.'"
He barely came in second, which, following the same logic here, must mean he is perilously close to winning the nomination. Donald Trump got 32 percent of the vote. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both got around 22 percent of the vote. Rubio is the only one of the three who hasn’t won a primary yet — but CBS News did say that he "shows strength."
This strategy may stop working eventually.
Win By Winning Your "Lane"
Several of the multitudinous members of the Republican primary pool had no chance of winning a state this election cycle. Realizing this, they set their sights lower, telling their supporters and reporters that they would be victorious if they won their "lane."
Lane (n.): "A narrow road, especially in a rural area."
By ignoring the candidates who actually have a chance of winning the presidential race — preferring instead to engage those also stuck out among the tumbleweeds and intersections with no traffic lights — candidates like John Kasich, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush all could rejigger the world in a way that they could be heroes, if just in their imagination. As the race goes on and it becomes more and more obvious that some candidates taking the scenic route have absolutely no chance of winning, the lanes curiously get smaller and smaller. Kasich said last week that know-nothing commentators keep saying, "'There’s two lanes. There’s the establishment lane, and the anti-establishment lane.' A 'Kasich lane' is someone who’s never been in the favor of the establishment." If we understand this correctly, this means that Kasich will always win his lane, for the remainder of his candidacy, because he is no longer competing against anyone.
Win By Beating Expectations
If you have no hope of winning your completely hypothetical lane, don’t worry. All you have to do to be a winner is perform better than expectations — a catch-all term for all the pity directed at your campaign, as well as the forecasts laid out by various forms of political meteorology: poll numbers, anecdata from voters, endorsements, and fundraising numbers.
Prove yourself not to be as pathetic as meets the eye, and boom — victory!
Although this type of "winning" may provide a quick ego boost, it also has limited utility in the long run. Since it is often a last-ditch plea for relevance, failing to beat expectations can also provide an unkind dose of reality. See: Jeb Bush, who vowed to beat expectations in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Win By Losing As Much As The People Who Say They Won
A brilliant strategy deployed by Ben Carson, who argued after the South Carolina primary that he "received as many delegates in South Carolina as all other candidates but the winner." He was right — Trump got all 50 delegates. Carson came in last place — or did he?
Win By Calling Everyone Else Losers
Donald Trump is the only candidate who has not been called a loser, or some equally insulting word, by Donald Trump. Make of that what you will.
Win By Winning A Certain Part Of The Electorate
Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucus on Saturday, but her opponent, Bernie Sanders, quickly noted that the results proved that his "campaign can win anywhere." Wait, what? The candidate explained that the race was far closer than anyone thought — and that he was doing better among Latino voters than expected. "Sanders Wins Latino Vote," one campaign email read, giving the candidate an ability to project winningness despite the result.
The claim may not even be true — as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times point out, the entrance-poll data used to make that boast isn’t always reliable. No one knows which candidate did better with this specific demographic.
Ted Cruz tried the same strategy in South Carolina, where he came in third. "We won young people in South Carolina," he told ABC News, adding, "I think we are positioned, nine days from today, to have an amazing day in Super Tuesday."
In 2012, Mitt Romney won Texas and Georgia. He is not currently in the White House.
Win By Winning The Mom-And-Dad Lottery
Jeb Bush might not be our next president, but he still thinks he’s a winner. As he told voters in South Carolina earlier this month, "Frankly, when my little eyes opened up 63 years and a day ago in Midland, Texas, I opened my eyes and she was there — I won the lottery in Barbara Bush."
It doesn’t matter, though, because Jeb won another lottery 63 years ago. As he told ABC News last year, George H.W. Bush is "the best dad and the best man I've ever met." Jeb's campaign store is still open, so you can even buy a T-shirt that says so.
Win By Noting That You Have Fewer Opponents
Oh, you’re getting desperate now, aren’t you? Hmm, let’s see. How about arguing that you are winning because there are now fewer people to lose to?
After South Carolina, John Kasich excitedly declared that "Tonight it Became a Four-Person Race." Rubio said, "After tonight this has become a three-person race." Ted Cruz called it a two-man race a few weeks ago.
They are all clearly winners.
Win By Being A Quitter
When Donald Trump refused to show up at a Fox News debate because Megyn Kelly was moderating, many websites declared him the debate’s winner. Senator Rand Paul declared a similar victory after refusing to attend an undercard debate. Sensing a pattern here …
Win By Anticipating Future Winning
After Hillary Clinton lost New Hampshire by more than 20 percentage points, "there was really no way for Clinton to spin this one as a win," NPR pointed out. Her team noted, however, that they were looking forward to being winners in the future. A memo written by her campaign said, "We believe that Hillary’s unique level of strength among African-Americans [and] Hispanics [would] put her on a clear path to the nomination."
Win By Losing The Primary
Back in 2014, Jeb Bush said that the eventual Republican presidential nominee would have to "lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles." Jeb Bush’s plan to lose the primary exceeded all expectations, as he is no longer even in the race. It is not clear yet how he plans to win the general, but given his success in carrying out his plan so far, he's sure to do so with great proficiency.
Win By Winning
This is an old-fashioned approach preferred by very few candidates. However, winning can turn into not winning if you don’t win enough or fail to live up to expectations — which is why it is so helpful that every single candidate running for president this year is also an underdog. This type of winning is a bit basic, so it helps to supplement your victories by turning your entire platform into winning, just like Donald Trump has done. He is the candidate who has found the most success thus far without relying on more creative forms of victory — and perhaps has only succeeded through his relentless subliminal messaging about winning. "We will have so much winning if I get elected," he assured his supporters in a sentence that sums up this primary race so far, "that you may get bored with the winning."