Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) reflected on life after losing the presidential election in an op-ed published by the Washington Post this afternoon, noting that “no one aspires to be a defeated presidential candidate.”
“In Washington, losing an election is viewed as a sort of death,” Dole wrote. “But instead of bringing food to the house, a few neighbors and some in the media stick a microphone in your face and ask, ‘Did you cost Ford the White House?’”
His loss to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale as Gerald Ford’s VP pick would be followed 20 years later by Dole’s unsuccessful attempt to oust incumbent Bill Clinton.
“I was the one pointing fingers — at myself,” he said. “Then, for a long time after my loss to Bill Clinton in 1996, I would lie awake nights wondering what I could have done to change the outcome. Did we rely too much on the Republican base, letting cultural issues define us in a harsh light and driving away independents and suburban voters?”
Dole’s what-it’s-like-to-lose op-ed was accompanied by one from George McGovern on his loss to Richard Nixon in 1972.
“Almost all my experience up to that point had convinced that me anything was possible. I had a capable team and dedicated supporters. The crowds at campaign events were large and enthusiastic. I didn’t pay undue attention to the polls, and I wasn’t overly concerned that there would be no face-to-face debates with Nixon,” McGovern wrote. “But when election night came and the early returns revealed one of the most lopsided victories in U.S. history, I was genuinely stunned.”
“I was left with the knowledge that I had been in the political race of my life but didn’t achieve victory, and so it was hard to accept that the presidency was not going to be mine to serve and that the plans I had hoped to implement were lost, too. Yet that is what I came to accept — had to accept — also acknowledging that after getting that close, I couldn’t try for the presidency again,” he added.
McGovern, now 90 years old, would team up with his old Senate colleague Dole in recent years to battle child hunger worldwide.
Dole, now 89, noted “the discovery by others that I had a sense of humor led to an improbable career pitching Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and Viagra.”
“Sure, losing an election hurts, but I’ve experienced worse. And at an age when every day is precious, brooding over what might have been is self-defeating. In conceding the 1996 election, I remarked that ‘tomorrow will be the first time in my life I don’t have anything to do,’” Dole wrote. “I was wrong. Seventy-two hours after conceding the election, I was swapping wisecracks with David Letterman on his late-night show.”