The Art of Losing
Every presidential election leaves one candidate — and his followers — on the soon-to-be-forgotten side of the ledger. Then it falls to that man to dig deep into his well of character, concede defeat and unite the nation. This time, the task fell to Mitt Romney, who had not even written a concession speech. Still, the one he gave was widely lauded for striking the right tone: “I so wish that I had been able to fulfill your hopes to lead the country in a different direction. But the nation chose another leader, and so Ann and I join with you to earnestly pray for him, and for this great nation.” But it hasn’t always gone so smoothly, as Scott Farris detailed in his recent book, Almost President.
Poor Role Models
Perhaps the most memorable example of burning bridges was not in a presidential race, but in the 1962 governor’s race in California, when Richard Nixon lost and told reporters that, “…you’ve had a lot of fun… just think how much you’re going to be missing me. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Of course Nixon got kicked around plenty more, as he came back and won two terms as president.
In 1916, Charles Evans Hughes lost to Woodrow Wilson and waited two weeks before sending a concession via telegram. Wilson quipped that the note was “a little moth-eaten when it got here, but quite legible.”
And when Barry Goldwater got crushed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964, he waited a day, then promised to keeping fighting LBJ — and he pointed out that Johnson didn’t get as many votes as John F. Kennedy had in 1960.
Rising Above the Bitterness
In 1876, Rutherford Hayes lost the popular vote by three percentage points, but his agents descended on four contested states with bags of money and secured just enough electoral votes to win. His opponent, Samuel Tilden, had every reason to be irked, but in his concession he struck a different tone: “Be of good cheer. The Republic will live. The institutions of our fathers are not to expire in shame.”
And that was the tone Al Gore chose when he, too, won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College in an alley fight down in Florida. Gore channeled Stephen Douglas, who, in his 1860 defeat — at the most bitter moment in our history — asked the South to support Abraham Lincoln.
As Douglas put it, and as Gore quoted him that December night in 2000, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.”