America’s political system is designed to always pull toward the center. You have two parties who can’t get much done without compromise, a rigorous primary system to weed out the fringe candidates, and an electorate which has more Independents than any other affiliation.
Yet things don’t always work out that way. Sometimes, a controversial candidate manages to slip through the system and launch a genuine White House bid. This year, it’s Donald Trump. Next election, it might be Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul. But, no matter how polarizing these names might seem, none of them could hold a candle to some of America’s historical candidates. All of the below were nominated to lead genuine political parties. And all of proved mind-blowingly controversial.
10. Earl Browder
In American politics, the idea that anyone who self-describes as a socialist could get a party’s nomination seems ridiculous. That’s why in 2016, Bernie Sanders is losing to Hillary Clinton. But Sanders is far from the most left wing candidate in history. In 1936 and again in 1940, Earl Browder ran as a pro-Moscow Communist.
A WWI draft dodger, Browder was rabidly anti-Hitler, rabidly pro-Stalin, and connected to Soviet spies who were monitoring FDR’s government. His stated policies were to overthrow capitalism and turn America brick red. He received direct funding from Moscow and was married to a suspected Russian agent. When he was nominated to run as the Communist Party’s candidate, he posed for photographers with a giant hammer and sickle.
Browder was controversial for more than just his super-left beliefs. At the time of his nomination, he was under bail for forging passports. Before the election, he was sentenced to four years in jail. Nonetheless, he managed to pull down 48,557 votes – a mere 0.1% of all those cast, but still more than you’d expect a common criminal to get.