One candidate didn’t appear presidential. Another didn’t articulate his ideas well. A third simply was too extreme for the country. Another flip-flopped positions, and nobody was sure where he stood on the issues. A fifth was the right man running at the wrong time in history.
These have been just a few of the refrains from the public and political pundits throughout the many years Americans have been voting for president of the United States. And it occurred to me the day after the 2012 presidential election was relegated to history, people already were pounding the losing candidate and relegating him to the scrapheap of failed election attempts.
Maybe it’s like football fans who only seem to remember the winner of the Super Bowl — just getting to the finals is not enough. It really is two men enter, one man leaves.
It seems odd now that I think about it, but the man (and one day in our future, it may be a woman) who finishes second in any presidential race immediately gets forgotten and shoved to the side, no matter who they are.
The names are probably still familiar to all of us who have been around a few years — John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Barry Goldwater, Adlai Stevenson (twice), Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey (twice) and Alf Landon.
Four of the losing candidates since the 1930s were sitting presidents — Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush — so they weren’t relegated as quickly to the political scrapheap, simply because they had earned the title of being called Mr. President for the rest of their lives and had served this nation for one term (or part of a term) as chief executive. One, Richard Nixon, lost his first attempt and won on his second. And this is just part of the list.
So, what’s in the American mindset almost from the day after a presidential election, that we push a failed candidate out of sight, out of mind?
Not sure if I can answer that, so instead of casting our eyes on the winners, take a look at the guys who took second place.
All these gentlemen — to a man — received millions upon millions of votes to become president. They just didn’t get as many as the guy who became president, or in some cases, they received the most votes, they just didn’t get them in the right states and lost the electoral college vote.
Now, it’s a little too strong to say any of these candidates dropped off the face of the earth. McCain, Kerry, Gore, Humphrey and Goldwater still commanded headlines, and the ones still with us still do to some extent.
But, not in the same breath with the men who became president.
That’s just the way it is.
Names from the past like Alfred E. Smith, Robert Lafollette, James Cox, Alton Parker, James Weaver, James Blaine, Samuel Tilden, Horatio Seymour, John Bell, Lewis Cass, Rufus King and Charles Pinckney don’t just roll off the tongue when discussing past presidential candidates. Indeed, although none of these men to my knowledge dropped off the face of the earth after losing a presidential election, lesser slots in government or private business kept them in the more subdued shadows of history.
But the further back you go in American history, you still can find some men who kept in the public light after presidential elections.
Many may be surprised to learn that Thomas Jefferson, one of the most revered names in U.S. history and whose visage graces Mount Rushmore, lost in his first presidential campaign to John Adams.
Names like Aaron Burr, DeWitt Clinton, Henry Clay, Winfield Scott, Stephen Douglas, George McClellan, Horace Greeley, Winfield Scott Hancock, William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt all remained relative giants in our history past. But, to a man, all lost at least one presidential election.
Abraham Lincoln ran for president twice and was elected both times, but before his success came near-abject failure as a political candidate in the cauldron of pre-Civil War, slavery-plagued America.
Old Abe ran for state legislature and lost; was defeated in his quest to become speaker of the state legislature after finally winning a seat; ran for U.S. Congress and lost; ran for re-election to Congress after winning a seat — and lost; ran for U.S. Senate and lost — twice; and sought the vice-presidential nomination at his party’s national convention and got less than 100 votes.
So, the list of failed presidential candidates is longer than the list of successful candidates in our history.
Still, even in defeat, all these men put everything on the line to earn the title of being called Mr. President — and gave Americans a choice rather than a monarch.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at enidnews.com/historicallyspeaking.